al & leon shim sham: break down

I have some most exciting news about dancing in Angels Camp (recently nicknamed Alien Creek)! I’ve recently found a local dance group which is interested in anything they can get their hands on, from Ballroom to Argentine Tango to Swing. They host weekly lessons and monthly dances, and everyone is super nice. I’ve been asked to come teach Argentine Tango, Lindy Hop, and Charleston. I’m stoked.

While I haven’t regularly practiced Argentine Tango in a couple years, I did help teach it for two years at Emory University. And of course, I’m especially stoked about about teaching Lindy Hop and Charleston. Everyone in this community is older, so everyone dances a little bit slower, and I think it will be a good challenge to teach dance at the pace everyone is used to dancing here.

The absolute best part about this new group of people is that I’ve been given free use of the practice space they use for classes whenever I want. That’s right – free, and whenever I want. With a dance floor, a mirror, and a sound system.

In an effort to keep up with practicing Lindy Hop as a hobby, I’ve undertaken breaking down and learning all the classic routines I can get my hands on, starting with the Shim Shams. Of course, this takes the term “Lindy Hop” pretty liberally, but there’s only so much I can do when I am the only person in the county* who knows how to Swing Out!

Since all my efforts would be sadly underused if I kept them to myself, I’m sharing the breakdowns here. First up, the Al and Leon Shim Sham!

In my attempts to break down the Al and Leon Shim Sham, I learned a lot about the frustrating nature of searching for useful videos on Youtube. I had no idea how easy I had it for the Tranky Doo, where only one particularly useful video was necessary, from behind and with counts. Still, by cross referencing multiple videos, I was able to come up with what I feel is a pretty basic breakdown of the Al and Leon Shim Sham.

Al & Leon Shim Sham Spreadsheet

Next step? Videoing myself performing the Al & Leon Shim Sham with the basic counts from behind. Because that’s the way all choreography videos should be done. Secondary choreography videos should have music, but should be from behind. And tertiary videos should be from the front with music, to show how it might look in a performance.

Of course, there aren’t really a lot of good primary videos available out there, especially for classic routines. To learn this choreo, I found a combination of the following videos particularly helpful, for different reasons:

First and Foremost, classic videos of Al and Leon themselves:

Pros: These videos are great to see the stylings of some of the Dancing Greats. Also, I love the use of hands in the second video, and I truly believe my dancing needs more hands (or cowbell).

Cons: the music doesn’t always match up, and it doesn’t really go through the full routine. Also, it’s hard to tell what some of the moves are without a little more context.

Three-Part Breakdown of the Al and Leon Shim Sham for the Charleston Chasers:

Pros: Like the Tranky Doo breakdown by Joe, this series of videos features two fantastic things: it’s filmed from behind, and it includes counts.

Cons: this video is filmed as a review specifically for the Charleston Chasers routine; as such, it includes a couple of sequences which aren’t standard to the routine. While that’s awesome for their routine, it’s not as awesome for learning the basics.

Al and Leon Shim Sham class with Kevin and Jo:

Pros: Kevin & Jo do a great job of sticking to the basic routine. From there, as comfort with the routine is found, the average person can go on to add his or her own flair (see Jo @ 1:24). They also use counts, with Jo calling out the moves.

Cons: This routine is filmed from the front; while this is great to see Kevin & Jo do the moves, it is terrible for orientation. I don’t understand why so many people insist on taking videos of class from in front rather than behind, especially with choreography.


With a semblance of follow-through, I hope to be videoing my own version of the Al & Leon Shim Sham, from behind, with counts, and using the most basic of the moves. Of course, this is mostly for myself to use for practice & memory, but I figure Youtube isn’t worth its weight in salt if we don’t share videos. So keep an eye out.


*Well, the only person I’ve met. Let me know if you know anyone else living in Calaveras County who knows a little about the step-step-triple-step and I’ll mail you a dollar.

  One thought on “al & leon shim sham: break down

  1. Kevin Minns
    31 May 2013 at 4:32 pm

    You do Al and Leon Justice!

    • 1 June 2013 at 4:38 am

      Thanks so much! It means a lot. They’re incredible people!

  2. 18 August 2013 at 4:13 pm

    It is great that you are displaying the pioneering, spirit of teaching the Lindy Hop and other dances of the swing era to this new community. I especially am grateful that you are reaching out to the member of my “older” generation. Teaching them the joy of swing dancing will keep them young. I mean, how can anyone complain about aging, when you’re swinging out with “happy feet,” right? Well, as you continue to plant the seeds of the Savoy in “Alien Creek,” know this: You have half the battle won in establishing an extension of the Lindy Hop Nation there. Why? Because just like my pops said about the Swedes, when he went there as the first Lindy Hopper to teach them, he found there excitement and hunger for learning the dances comparable to the dancers of Harlem in his heyday. Just think, Cari, years from now, an entire community of Lindy Hoppers will owe their foundation to you! You have the stand-alone spirit of Minns and James!!!!! Swing-out 4 Life, Girl!!!

  3. Anonymous
    11 February 2016 at 7:59 pm

    Thank you! 🙂

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