Jul 18 2011

Do the Shag!

If you come to Carolina, you gotta know something about how to shag.

This dance is as southern as sweet tea and grits. It’s a throwback to when dancing was a lot more than grinding to fat beats blasted out in clubs. It’s a simpler dance with few fancy footworking steps required.

But before you learn to shag, learn a little bit about the official state dance of South Carolina.

The dance started sometime back in the 1930s on Myrtle Beach. Like many things in the south, it gets its roots from traditional black music and dances that teens got a hold of and made into their own. In this pre-Civil Rights era when segregation was the norm, white teens would go to clubs and dance halls designated blacks-only to listen to the music and watch them dance.

These teens would then go home and recreate the dance steps they learned. They also began requesting the music they heard in these black clubs to be played at their whites-only establishments.

This caused some controversy as the shag was commonly done to black music, and that was a big no-no through much of the south. Radio stations wouldn’t play this music (if you’re wondering what “black” music was, think early Motown) so teens would have to seek out jukeboxes in beach clubs and pavilions. They’d dance along to it in these clubs and even take the dance outside on boardwalks letting the crashing of the waves add to the beat.

The early days of the shag involved quick dance steps and many of the teens who were fans of the dance referred to themselves as jitterbugs. When the 1950s rolled around, the pace of the dance had slowed down some and became more widespread. By this time, the music was becoming more and more excepted and it was common to see teens shagging at drive-thru burger joints.

As the dance continued to evolve, the dance steps became more playful and often involved couples mirroring each other’s moves. Some of the highly-skilled shaggers can even perform a quick solo act while their partner dances on the sidelines.

Nowadays, clubs exist throughout the south and the rest of the country so that shag dancers can get together for competitions and just to have a good time dancing to the oldies. That’s not to say the shag can’t be done to modern music – it certainly can – there’s just something about dancing to Motown’s old rhythm and blues that really jives with shagging.

One of the best parts of this dance is that it doesn’t require a lot of formality. It’s perfectly suited for beach weather and beach clothes and can be done virtually anywhere. If you want to practice your shag moves on Edisto, try it anywhere from your vacation rental to Coot’s Lounge (Edisto’s only beach front bar) to the Dockside’s bar or down in the sand on the beach.

There’s an official shag contest on Edisto Beach at the tail-end of summer over Labor Day Weekend on Friday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. at the Bay Creek Park where dancers can put their moves on display in hopes of becoming the best shagger around. Look for more information about that competition and other Labor Day events in an upcoming post.

 

 

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