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Shag, The Basic

Where would the shag be

without the BASIC?

Everything evolves around
the BASIC!

Shag instructors will spend at least 2 lessons on the BASIC! Starting at the BASIC helps you to get the rhythm down and the general movement of the dance. It's movement, it's smoothness, it's gracefulness, etc., etc., etc. are all learned through the BASIC step. The easiest way to share the BASIC with you is to write it down and let you read it while you practice it! But before I give you step-by-step instructions, let me give you some general instructions.


The couple begins the BASIC standing face-to-face about an arms' length away from each other. The arms should be bent at the elbow to allow a forward and backward movement. The elbow should be straight down from the shoulder and should stay at waist level through all of the BASIC step.


The BASIC movement in the body is from the knees down. This means that the hips should not sway side-to-side nor up-and-back and that the shoulders are kept forward always facing your partner.


The BASIC is a forward-and-back step, not side-to-side, nor up-and-down. The whole body should be relaxed to create a smooth, non-jerky, movement.


The only contact between partners is with the woman's right hand and the man's left hand. Since the man leads into other steps with his hand, the grip must be secure but not awkward. The woman should extend her right hand to gently rest in the man's hand. The man, with his left hand should gently clasp under her fingers and rests his thumb on top of her fingers.


The BASIC is done in 8 beats. Some prefer to use an "8" count, others use a "6" count. Either way, it is 8 beats. The "8" count is done: 1-2-3,4-5-6, 7-8. Simple? Try it! 1-2-3, 4-5-6, 7-8. The "6" count is done: 1 &2, 3 & 4, 5, 6. The "beat" of the music will determine how slow or fast the count will be. This is why the SHAG can be done to so many different types of music. Another way to do the "8" count is 1-2-3,1-2-3, 1-2. Either of these three ways is correct and only a matter of preference. The first example (i.e., 1-2-3, 4-5-6, 7-8) will be used in this article.


A good way to practice the BASIC is to use a door knob as a partner. It's height is just about right for everyone and gives you a good feel for the back and forth movement of the feet and the arms. After all, it's no fun to dance into the door. You might get a headache!


The BASIC foot movement is done close to the floor and is done softly, almost on the ball of the foot. A good shagger is never flat-footed with their steps nor do they slap their feet to the floor.


The BASIC is always done with the woman directly across from the man. Not at his side or off at an angle. Pretend that both of you are on a straight line. In some steps, you may end up perpendicular to that straight line -- but then you are on another straight line.


Shaggers do NOT carry beverages onto the dance floor. This is out of respect to the floor which is usually wood. Also, to respect other dancers, always try to stay out of their way. You create your space and stay in it. At events like SOS, this enables many more dancers to use the dance floor.


Shag attire is usually casual, although competitors do get all dolled up for their contests. Women should NEVER wear high heels.


Advanced steps all work out to an "8" count and can be done in a series of "8" steps. As one progresses, creativity is welcomed. Mirror steps are also encouraged.


Some of the steps that you will want to learn include: Crossover Basic, Start, Turns, Pivot, Belly Roll, Boogie Walk, Kickback with Lean, Pause, Side Step, Prissy, and Sugarfoot. There are many other steps done in different areas, but these are the essential steps. Several of these steps can be done in a series . . . but always return to the BASIC after finishing the series.

Now . . . THE BASIC:
Female Basic

The woman begins on her right foot,

the man on his left.

Remember, start with both feet together.

Male Basic

  1. Women move their right foot slightly forward. Men move their left foot slightly forward.
  2. Women move their left foot up next to the right foot. Men move their right foot up next to the left foot.
  3. Women move their right foot back slightly behind the left foot. Men move their left foot back slightly behind the right foot.
  4. Women move their left foot back slightly behind the right foot. Men move their right foot back slightly behind the left foot.
  5. Women move their right foot back slightly behind the left foot. Men move their left footback slightly behind the right foot.
  6. Women move their left foot up slightly in front of the right foot. Men move their right foot up slightly in front of the left foot.
  7. Women move their right foot beside the left foot. Men move their left foot beside the right foot.
  8. Women shift or rock their weight to their left foot. Men shift or rock their weight to their right foot.

NOTE: You might want to substitute the word "slide" for "move." This may help you to have more of a "gliding and smooth" step.

Another way to remember it is using the count "Up-2-3, Back-2-3, Right, Left."

Please remember that I'm not a shag instructor and that I have tried to simplify my comments. My instructions for the BASIC are very basic. Hopefully, they will help you to understand a little more about shagging!

To get some idea of a typical shag lesson, Be sure to click here to read a reprinted article from The Herald-Sun, July 14, 1996, Durham, NC.