With their fluid movements and fluid footwork, the Ottawa Shufflers community makes dancing old and new easy.
The group of around 20 years old meet for weekly outdoor “shuffle and flow” get-togethers at Lansdowne Park.
Members say that thanks to the lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic and a deluge of social dancing tutorials, a whole new generation is dusting off their dancing shoes and pulling off the running man and other signature moves.
“One in two social media accounts you follow are probably doing some sort of random dance or TikTok trend that incorporates random dance moves,” explained Sydney Switzer, one of the community’s organizers.
The 24-year-old Swiss dove into the shuffling in 2019 to exercise while trying something new.
“I had a shoulder injury and I couldn’t go to the gym anymore,” Switzer recalled. “I started mixing because I thought it was really cool.”
Switzer said she found her groove when she started connecting with other shufflers around town. Then, during the pandemic, she helped organize outdoor sessions where dancers could find their groove – sometimes from a distance – behind the Aberdeen Pavilion.
In fact, shufflers said the lockdowns actually helped the community grow because people spent so much time stuck indoors, browsing social media.
“There are endless tutorials, and people learn how to do certain moves. I’ve seen it really amplifies the community here,” said Laurah Le, who started the Ottawa Shufflers Community group in 2018.
“We like to show each other the moves we’ve learned on the internet and teach each other so we can level up together.”
What is brewing?
The dance style is called shuffling because of the way the dancers slide their feet against the floor. It has its roots in the 1980s, with the stomping and quick heel-to-toe dance moves of artists like MC Hammer, Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson.
“Shuffling technically borrows from other dance styles,” Le said, describing it as a kind of street dance that looks different depending on who’s doing it.
But there is a basic movement that they all share.
“It all starts with the man running,” Switzer explained, describing it as a cross between running in place and moonwalking.
“Once you get a little more comfortable, you can kind of just sink,” she said, adding spins, hand push-ups, stomps, slides and other flourishes. .
EDM music to mix
Also known as “shape-cutting”, shuffling later became popular in the rave and festival scenes of the 1990s. Now, shufflers mostly dance to upbeat EDM music.
In Ottawa, this has led the group to invite a rotation of local DJs to their outdoor dance floors, both to showcase their skills and to support those who have been out of work during the pandemic.
Colin Post, aka DJ Collins, says it’s a different challenge to make music outside of the usual club venue.
“When we DJ outside, it’s cooler music and nicer vibes,” he said. “[At Lansdowne there are] people around with kids, so it’s more family-friendly.”
Despite the welcoming atmosphere, Post says he won’t be jumping behind the deck anytime soon.
“It takes so long to get super fast. So I have to dance really slow. I feel like I should keep practicing DJing instead of dancing,” he laughed.
Learn the shuffle with these tips from the Ottawa Shufflers community
- To slow down! Choose slower songs with fewer beats per minute.
- Be dramatic! The more exaggerated the movements, the cooler it looks. For example, try to bring your knee to waist height or higher.
- Practice often! To get better at something, you need a lot of repetition. Practice in the kitchen, in the bathroom, anywhere – and that’s how you’ll really progress.
- Work on the basics and be kind to yourself! Everything is difficult at first.
- Meet shufflers and learn tricks in real life! The best growth comes with community, so come to a meeting.
Ready to make a move?
If you want to get into shuffling, Switzer says their dating caters to all walks of life, and professional shufflers are ready to give beginners a helping hand.
“There’s always someone out there willing to show you a new move,” Switzer said. “[Whether you’re a] super beginner or more advanced, we have people of all levels.”
As Le notes, it can be scary trying to mix for the first time, but everyone in the band “started somewhere.” The best part, she says, is having fun with new friends.
“We see the same people every week. We build these relationships with each other and we can just hang out and have a good time,” Le said.
“So come have fun! There’s nothing but good vibes here.”