Toe Jam

class=img_thumbleft>When professional dancer Liz Wawrzonek first met Lauren Schad and Gina Kent, they were dressed in bunny costumes, or as Wawrzonek describes it, sequined unitards with "rabbit tails on their cute little butts." It was Easter, hence the uni-bunnies, and Schad and Kent were tap dancing at the Triple Rock as openers for the local punk band Dillinger Four. For Wawrzonek, colored eggs, plastic grass, and melted Peeps didn't immediately spring to mind. Instead, her first thought was, "How do I sign up to be a tap-dancing punk-rock Playboy bunny?"

Turns out Schad and Kent weren't Playboy bunnies, just skilled costume designers who called their dancing duo the Shim Sham Shufflers, had a shared dream of dancing, and never stepped a tapped foot into a dancing class.

That was nearly a year ago, and since that time Schad and Kent took a few community-ed classes in tap, added Wawrzonek to the mix, and became the Twin Cities' only burlesque-style tap-dancing troupe to open for a handful of local bands and perform at various benefits and a very special Halloween Vampyre party.

But the Shim Sham Shufflers's big break came over the summer when the girls were, ummm, tapped to be extras on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion movie. That's when Wawrzonek and company found out director Robert Altman has a thing for tap-dancing women who call themselves Busty St. Claire, Chesty LaRue, and Hootie McBoob, and that Lindsay Lohan eats only mustard and won't look the "help" in the eye. CP: What was the inspiration for the Shim Sham Shufflers?

Lauren and Gina are always on the scene, looking amazing, so it was just a matter of time before they got together and did something hot. They combined their love for the local music scene with their lifelong dream to take the stage in tap shoes to create the Shim Sham Shufflers. But from the start, the costumes have always really been the star of the show, which is no surprise since Lauren is a fashion designer/3-D artist and Gina is a seamstress and a genius with costuming, hair, and make-up.

CP: The last time I saw you guys perform, you danced to a remake of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love." What makes a good Shim Sham Shuffler tap tune? And how does it determine your costume choice and design?

We try to choose songs that will create a kitschy, cute, or campy vibe and our costumes and aesthetic are keys to achieving this effect. "Little Spanish Flea," with country-style gingham frocks; Gloria Jones' bluesy version of "Tainted Love," with ripped fishnets and flirty dresses; Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn" with black berets, gloves, and cat's-eye sunglasses....We're inspired by the renaissance that burlesque-style performance has had of late, and we strive to capture that vibe infused with our own personalities.

CP: You have (possibly) two appearances in the Prairie Home Companion movie. How did that happen?

One of the casting directors from the film heard about us from a Radio K contact of hers who saw us at a show--sort of a chain effect. She pulled our pics from MySpace (who says the internet isolates us?) and showed them to "Bob" [director Robert Altman] himself. He liked the look and they called us down. We ended up shooting two different scenes but until we see an actual print of the film we can't say for sure how much of a presence we'll have...totally amazing experience, nonetheless.

CP: How did the cast and crew respond to you?

The first day we shot was the Lily Tomlin/Meryl Streep/Lindsay Lohan scene. We thought we'd be standing around in a crowd but it was just the three of us and the three of them. Meryl and Lily were so generous and open. As they were ad-libbing through the scene, they would add things like, "Hey, Shim Sham Shufflers, give us a beat," or, "When'd you get your nose pierced?!" It was so fantastic to find these huge stars so personable. CP: And was Lindsay Lohan as terrible as everyone says?

Lindsay Lohan wouldn't even look us in the eye--she just sat there pretending to eat her specially ordered Chex Mix, mustard, and Diet Coke. Altman kept forgetting her name. [He'd say],"Where's that Logan girl?"

CP: What was the most memorable moment?

The day we shot at the same time as Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly. Gina had been dying to meet John and he ended up eating dinner with us and chatting for a long time. He seemed interested in our lives. And of course it was incredible to see how Altman and his director of photography Ed Lachman would employ these elaborate dollies that cantilevered from the stage out over the audience to capture the reflection of us on stage in a mirror at the back of the theatre--talk about process.

A Prairie Home Companion plays at SXSW in Austin, Texas in March and opens in June nationwide. The Shim Sham Shufflers also can be seen opening for Gay Beast and Malachi Constant on Friday, February 24 at the Turf Club, and Saturday, February 25 at the Dinkytowner.

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