Back in my single days in South Carolina, disco was in full swing; it was what we heard at most of the clubs my friends and I visited, and we learned to dance to it along with everyone else. But one night, at a club in Charleston called Xanadu, disco was played at first and then they switched to music I’d never heard before, and couples on the floor began doing a dance I’d never seen. I nudged my friend and asked, “What in the world are they doing?” “That’s the shag,” she replied. I watched, fascinated. “Do you know anybody who can teach me to do this?” I asked. She said,”Sure!” and called to one of her friends on the floor and introduced us. He assured me he could teach me in no time, and thus began one of my favorite activities and something I miss about living in South Carolina to this day.
The Carolina Shag is a dance that’s been popular in the Carolinas for decades. Although there is some precise footwork involved, the basic step looks like one is shuffling back and forth in the sand on the beach, which is where many first learned how to do it. It’s danced in clubs throughout the Southeast and there are local, regional and national contests. After learning how to do it, I went to many “shag nights” at local clubs and went to watch several local contests. Some of my happiest memories are of sitting at a table at a club at the beach with my friends on Sunday afternoons, drinking icy cold beer and eating seafood while watching couples dance, especially some of the more mature couples who’d been dancing the shag for 30 years or more.
There are many videos on YouTube, of course, with good examples of dancing the shag, but this brother-sister team competing in the 2005 National Championships is one of my favorites:
There are also certain songs that are beach music standards, the ones that if you like this kind of music you just can’t avoid dancing to. This is my favorite, “Ms. Grace” by The Tymes:
A particularly fun number is “Sixty-Minute Man” by The Dominoes; I remember everyone shouting, “Don’t Stop!” at appropriate points in the song; you’ll see what I mean:
And of course this song, “I Love Beach Music” by The Embers gives a good overview of all beach music favorites:
I’ve been away from South Carolina for 28 years now, but I remember those days fondly, and every now and then I get out a scarf, tie it to the refrigerator handle or a doorknob for an instant “partner,” put on some beach music and dance the shag once more. Good times!