The Dorothy Shim Sham

by Dorothy Wasserman

Saint Cloud Productions, 2010

 

It’s a jazz tradition to take a standard and make it your own—which is precisely what Dorothy Wasserman has done with the Shim Sham Shimmy. Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant created this routine comprising four phrases of simple steps in 1927, and Wasserman learned it in the mid-1970s as a member of Brenda Bufalino’s tap company. “I love the Shim Sham,” Wasserman says. “Those old rhythms bring together a great historic sound.” Inspired by the original and her fondness for ’70s funk music, she began working on her own interpretation. Using the same four-phrase structure, she added complexity, syncopation and bounce.

 

Though the Dorothy Shim Sham is challenging, Wasserman acts as a skilled guide in this 90-minute DVD. She presents each phrase separately, breaking steps down into sounds, counts and rhythms, and progressively builds speed and leads viewers in a call and response. Her experience as an educator—she has taught at the North Jersey School of Dance Arts for more than 20 years and is also a full-time elementary school art teacher—is evident.

 

The DVD also features a brief history on the original Shim Sham Shimmy and archival footage of legendary hoofers the Copasetics performing the routine. And Wasserman traces the development of her version from 1978 through 1989, when it caught the eye of Gregory Hines, who featured the Dorothy Shim Sham in the film Tap. To finish, Wasserman leads viewers through the full dance at various speeds, first a cappella and then with different accompaniments. She recommends that teachers using the DVD in class have their students pay close attention to her weight shifts. And during the rhythmically tricky third phrase, focus on the metronomic beat provided by the claves. But most important, Wasserman says, you have to let go: “In order to get this dance correct, your whole body has to respond to what your feet are doing.”

 

Photo courtesy of Dorothy Wasserman

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