Can you shuffle? A group of swift-footed dancers wants to show you how

·4 min read
From left to right, Valerie Daoust, Laurah Le and Sydney Switzer show off new shuffling moves at a recent meetup at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa. (Alexander Behne/CBC - image credit)
From left to right, Valerie Daoust, Laurah Le and Sydney Switzer show off new shuffling moves at a recent meetup at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa. (Alexander Behne/CBC - image credit)

With their slick moves and free-flowing footwork, the Ottawa Shufflers Community makes the old-meets-new dance style look easy.

The group of mostly 20-somethings gathers for weekly outdoor "shuffle and flow" meet-ups at Lansdowne Park.

Members say that thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and a deluge of social dance tutorials, a whole new generation are dusting off their dancing shoes and pulling off the running man and other signature moves.

"Every second social media account you're following is probably doing some sort of shuffle dance or TikTok trend that incorporates shuffle dance moves," explained Sydney Switzer, one of the community's organizers.

Alexander Behne/CBC
Alexander Behne/CBC

The 24-year-old Switzer dove into shuffling in 2019 as a way to exercise while trying something new.

"I had a shoulder injury, and I couldn't go to the gym anymore," recalled Switzer. "I started shuffling because I thought it was really cool."

Switzer said she found her flow when she started connecting with other shufflers in the city. Then, during the pandemic, she helped organize outdoor sessions where dancers could find their groove — at times 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 inside, scrolling through social media.

"There's endless tutorials, and people are learning how to do certain moves. I've seen that really amplify the community here," said Laurah Le, who started the Ottawa Shufflers Community group in 2018.

"We love to show each other moves that we've learned on the internet and teach each other so that we can level up together."

Alexander Behne/CBC
Alexander Behne/CBC

What is shuffling? 

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 stomps and quick heel-toe dance moves of artists like MC Hammer, Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson.

"Shuffling technically borrows from other dance styles," said Le, describing it as a kind of street dancing that looks different depending on who's doing it.

But there is one basic move they all share.

"It all starts with the running man," explained Switzer, describing it a cross between running in place and the moonwalk.

"Once you get a little bit more comfortable, then you can sort of just flow," she said, by adding spins, arm pumps, stomps, slides and other flourishes.

Alexander Behne/CBC
Alexander Behne/CBC

EDM music for shuffling

Also known as "cutting shapes," shuffling later became popular on the rave and festival scenes of the 1990s. Now, shufflers mostly dance to upbeat EDM music.

In Ottawa, that's led the group to invite a rotation of local DJs to their outdoor dance floors, both to showcase their skills and support those who've been out of work during the pandemic.

Colin Post, aka DJ Collins, says it's a different challenge to make music outside the usual club venue.

"When we're DJ-ing outside, it's a chiller kind of 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 leaping out from behind the turntable any time soon.

"It takes so long to get super fast. So I have to dance super slow. I feel like I should just keep practicing DJ-ing instead of dancing," he laughed.

Ash Abraham/CBC
Ash Abraham/CBC

Learn the shuffle with these tips from the Ottawa Shufflers Community 

  • Slow it down! Pick slower songs with fewer beats-per-minute.

  • Be dramatic! The more exaggerated the moves, the cooler it looks. As an example, try bringing your knee up to waist height or higher.

  • Practice often! To get better at something, you need lots of reps. Practice in the kitchen, in the bathroom, wherever — and that's how you'll really level up.

  • Work on the basics and go easy on yourself! Everything is hard at first.

  • Meet shufflers and learn tips in real life! The best growth comes with community, so come out to a meetup.

WATCH | Want to know how to shuffle? Start with the running man  

Ready to bust a move?

If you want to take up shuffling, Switzer says their meetups are for all walks of life, and pro shufflers are willing to give newbies a leg up.

"There's always someone that's 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 might be scary trying shuffling for the first time, but everyone in the group "started somewhere." The best part, she said, is having fun with new friends.

"We get to see the same people every single week. We build those relationships with each other and we just get to hang out and have a good time," said Le.

"So come have fun! There's only good vibes here."


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