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Streetswings Dance History Archives: The Shimmy

"Le Shimmy" postcard

Shimmy Sha Wabble Dance History Logo     The shimmy goes way back to the "Haitian Voodoo " dances with the rapid shaking of hips and shoulders. The Horon dance of the Black Sea has one of the most characteristic movements, in horon dances, there is a fast shoulder shimmy and a trembling of the entire body, which imitates or suggests the movements of the hamsi (type of anchovy) as it swims in the sea or struggles in the nets for its life. When men and women perform together as a couple, the dance is often referred to as the Rahat, (comfortable horon.) The Nigerian's had a dance called the Shika which is said to have come to the states through slavery and later transformed into the 'Shake and Quiver' around 1900. The Ahselroten of Germany was a shoulder shaking dance of the 1400s as well. So, I guess we are really talking about the "style of the shimmy" that was created here in the States.

     It may have been known prior as the "Shimmy Sha-Wabble" also written in Bradfords song "Rules and Regulations" in 1911. The Shimmy was mentioned in sheet music called the "Bulfrog Hop" back to 1908 (probably referred to the shake and quiver version but Bradford called it the shimmy) and can be seen all the way back in an old edison film entitled 'Princess Rajah' dated 1902 but wouldn't become popular with white America till the 1920s with Gray and West. It would be made even more famosu due to it being banned in some dance establishments and publications asking for it's ban.

    The Shimmy has been claimed by many, but it was Gilda Gray (1901-1959) who could never keep her body still while she sang. When she moved her shoulders, her audiences loved it so much she kept it in her act. The Shimmy (chemise) is said to be a part of her dress (Straps) and when she shook her shoulder her chemise would always show.

The New York Times reported that: Around 1918, at John Letzka's Saloon, a patron watching her do this yelled out while she was performing and said: "What do you call that dance," she replied, "I'm shaking my chemise, that's what I am doing." Gray later refuted ever saying this in "The Dance Magazine." Gray also did the shimmy in the Ziegfeld's Follies of 1922 and was said to be much smoother than West's.

   Mae West (1893-1980) also laid claim to the shimmy and in 1918 she sang " Everybody Shimmies Now" and added the Shimmy to her act in Hammerstein's "Sometime" (1919) while she sang the song: "What do I Have to do to Get It." In the Ziegfeld Follies of 1919, the song "You Cannot Make Your Shimmy Shake On Tea" was performed. Bee Palmer danced the Shimmy to the song 'Shimmee' (by Shelton Brooks) in the summer of 1918 in Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolics. However, as mentioned earlier, in 1908 in a song entitled "The Bullfrog Hop" the shimmy was mentioned. So in reality, these ladies may have only added to the dance and its popularity. The Shimmy was to become very popular in the 1920's Ragtime Era.

   Striptease thru Burlesque is indirectly related to the Shimmy. In 1875 Le Divan Fayouau, in the 'Rue des Martyrs,' France performed a sketch that required her to remove most of her clothing one piece at a time. Stripping on stage had been around long before the Shimmy, but it had not yet come full scale which leads us to Hinda Wassau, who won a dance contest at Chicago's State Congress Theatre in 1928 and a chance to dance professionally for a week doing her shimmy solo dance. During one of her solo's, her zipper got stuck in her costume and was not able to zip it all the way up before her solo, and you guessed t, during the act she shimmied it loose and exposed herself, as her costume fell apart to the floor, one piece at a time, while she shaked, shimmied and gyrated to the unsuspecting audience who went wild with applause and instead of bowing at the end, she gave a wink and walked off stage. She was embarressed to no end and thought she would be fired but the manager loved it and paid her to do it more, and more and more... others would follow and the strip-tease was born.

   The Shimmy believe it or not, actually became a couples dance in the 1930's, however it is mainly a solo dance that is still popular today, although it is not really considered a dance anymore, but a dance movement. In the late 1950's a dance called the "Freeze" became popular and was easy to do, you struck a pose and made your whole body quiver and shake like the shimmy. During the 1960s, many women would wear a "tasseled type dress" and shimmy or shake the tassels while dancing (Go-Go dancers,) this became very, very popular and would be called the Shimmy-Shake. The Shimmy-Shake can be seen in many beach cult type movies such as Beach Blanket Bingo, etc. of the 1960s.


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Video Clips (pop-up)

Related Films


Ballets / Stage

Video Clip not available at this time 1919 - Getting a Story, or the Origin of the Shimmie Laugh-In 1918 - Ziegfelds Midnight Frolics
Video Clip not available at this time 1920 - Shaking the Shimmy       1919 - Sometime (10/4)
Video Clip not available at this time 1920 - Shimmie Shivers       1919 - Ziegfeld Follies of 1919
Video Clip not available at this time 1920 - Some Shimmiers       1922 - the Cabaret Girl
Video Clip not available at this time 1920 - Stop That Shimmie       1922 - Ziegfeld Follies of 1922
Video Clip not available at this time 1921 - Shimmy Geography       1927 - Africana (Ethel Waters)
Video Clip not available at this time 1926 - Aloma of the South Seas       1929 - Hot Chocolates ('Jota' Cook)
Video Clip not available at this time 1927 - The Devil Dancer (Gray)*       1929 - Pansy (Bessie Smith)
Video Clip not available at this time 1927 - The Shimmy Queen*       10/1919 - Negro Music Journal
Viewable thru a Youtube Video Pop-up window.
1947 - Angels or Demons (Pons)       3/1/1938 - Look Magazine
Video Clip not available at this time 1988 - Cocktail [DVD] (Cruise)       1920s - Oh Quei Tuoi Capelli - Dajos Bela Orchestra
Viewable thru a Youtube Video Pop-up window.
"Corte Tubo" - Bertica Serrano & Eddie le Baron        

Other Related Dances of the time...

Belly Dance Cootie - Tickle Quickstep Shimmy-Sha-Wobble
Black Bottom Foxtrot Rahat Shimmy Shake
Bunny Hug Freeze, the Raks-Sharqi Tango
Castle Walk Gaby Glide Shake Dance Texas Tommy
Charleston Horon Shake and Quiver (Burlesque) Turkey Trot
Collegiate Shimmy Peabody Shika  

Dancers, Choreographers etc.

Sheet Music Covers

1918 - Bea Palmer 1928 - Hinda Wassau The Cootie Tickle
1919 - Mae West 1929 - Bessie Smith (in Pansy) You Can Not Shake That "Shimmie" Here
1920 - Ann Pennington 1929 - Louis 'Jota' Cook (Shake dancer)  
1920's - Ethel Walters 1930's - Ivie Anderson  
1920 - Gilda Gray 1950's - Bertica Serrano  
1928 - Bobbie Arnst    

Composers / Musicians/ Bands



Armand J. Piron (1888-1943) Gilda Gray (1901-1959) 3-15-1920 - Orange County Times Pr (Bans Shimmy Court Case)
Al Bernard (1888-1949) Mae West (1893-1980) 7/1/1920 - Syracuse Hearld (The Shim)
Dave Stamper 1883-1963) Elvis Presley (Wolf Call)    
Fred Hamm & his Orch        
Fred Waring (1900-1984)        
Irving Berlin (1888-1989)        
King Coleman ()        
Lou Chiha (1893-????)        
Nat Bonz ()        
New Orleans Rhythm Kings        
'Papa' Charlie Jackson (1890-1938)        
Perry Bradford (1893-1970)        
Shelton Brooks (1886-1975)        
Spencer Williams (1893-1969)        
Theron C. Bennett (1879-1937)        
Yellen & Olman (Yeolman)        

Misc. Research Words that may be related .. to help your searches

Chemise Kate Shimmy-sha-wobble Shake, Quiver
Haiti Shimmee Voodoo   

Movies portraying the era

$ 1981- Ragtime $ 1973- The Sting $ 1927- It!
$ 1928- The Crowd $ 1928- Our Dancing Daughters $ Dances Thru Time Video

Films with the Shimmy

1902 - Princess Rajah Dance (Edison film) The Girl Cant Help It  
1965 - Girl Happy (Wolf Call)    

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Last updated: October 9, 2015