How to Dance Like Sha Na Na

by George J. Leonard, 67C,
Conception and Choreography Sha Na Na.
(COLUMBIA COLLEGE TODAY, Spring/Summer 1989, p. 30)

The next time you see Woodstock or Grease, or PBS's Welcome to the Fillmore East, here's how to dance along. Pick up a dummy mike, turn up your collar, take the shade off the lamp and look at your shadow on the wall. Don't practice before a mirror-- you'll start acting with your face, and past the tenth row it's just a blur. Remember, 300,000 stoned freaks are waiting to see you.

Let's learn a gold-lame lead-singer move, "The Spanish Turn." I saw Chuck Jackson do it at the Apollo, then worked it out with my dance teacher, Boris Butleroff. Hold your mike and stand at ease. Keeping all your weight on your left leg, lift your weightless right foot and, using only your toe-- keeping your right heel daintily high-- elegantly draw a line in the dust starting at two o'clock and ending at ten o'clock, as far in front of your left foot as you can-- now freeze! Your right toe rests on ten o'clock, your right leg is crossed in front of you almost as if you sat in a chair. You're coiled.

Shift all your weight to the ball of your right foot and spin on it counterclockwise, one full turn, so that you end facing the 300,000 freaks. The full spin will throw you left: don't fight it, you'll find you naturally fall to your right knee, just as you should. Throw your left arm up at a 45-degree angle, fingers together and straight, thumb tucked inside palm for a clean line, head wrenched left parallel to the arm. If perfect, you're a silhouette on the shade: knees, toes, head, arm, all point exactly at what was nine o'clock. Tip your mike toward the audience so you send their roars out at them over the amps.

To do real Sha Na Na, you need a friend to simultaneously Spanish Turn right while you S.T. left (he ends up pointing at three o'clock, you're pointing at nine) and another friend to stand between you two, S.T. in place (hard!) and sink slowly to both knees. (Watch Rob do it in PBS's "Welcome to the Fillmore East" during Teen Angel.) Finally, add music. You sing: "TEEN an-gel . . ." and Spanish turn to the left. Then your friend on the far end sings "TEEN an-gel..." and Spanish turns right. Then the Center man sings, "TEEN An-gel . . " and does his Spanish turn, slowly to both knees. Now,tutti:: "OOO--oooooo . . .!"

The last part--- the difference between soul dance and what's now called Fifties dance--- I got by taking graduate aesthetics with Richard Kuhns, who still teaches philosophy at Columbia. Through Professor Kuhns, I came to read Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation and acquired her taste for High Camp and Busby Berkeley's 30's dance films, like Forty-Second Street. - The choreography America now instantly thinks of as Fifties is really a uniquely Columbia synthesis: a 22-year-old Susan Sontag buff applying Busby Berkeley mass symmetries to the soul moves he saw down the hill at the Apollo. And my novels later were the same Pop Art mix, equal parts Dostoevski and Death Wish 6. Pure Columbia style!