I decided approximately 20 years ago to take Carolina Shag lessons, but I failed, miserably.
In fact, the instructors kicked me off the dance floor, telling everybody present that I was a complete failure, had no rhythm and was a distraction to the rest of the class.
But at breakfast the other day with several old-timers, some much older than I, I learned about the impact of South Carolina on American music, particularly through the shag and beach music.
The Carolina Shag is almost one with beach music, which was popular in the rest of the United States for roughly two weeks but has eternal life here in South Carolina. The Carolina Shag was designated the South Carolina State Dance in 1984 (SC Act # 329).
Beach music was derived from the black music and dances called the Jitterbug, popularized first in the 1935 movie “Cab Calloway’s Jitterbug Party,” a derivative of the older swing dance and music. The Big Bands of the 1940s picked up the beat, replaced by the styles of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry in the 1950s, and moving from the Carolina Coast to all over the nation ever since, but the shag dance persists mainly back in the Carolinas.
The style is characterized by what’s called the 4/4 blues shuffle, with the dance characterized by six-count, eight-step patterns, danced in a “slot.” In more recent times, films such as the 1989 “Shag,” bands like “Alabama,” the Steve Harvey Show and even a channel “Carolina Shag” on SiriusXM have promoted the music and dance.
One of Pat Conroy’s novels bear the title “Beach Music” (but it’s not really about beach music, although the novel includes the famous line referring to The Drifters’ song “Save the Last Dance for Me”: “This is your Mama’s and my favorite song. We fell in love dancing to it; ‘Carolina Beach Music is the holiest sound on earth.’”).
Beach Music is still very popular along the Carolina Coast and with many of the top artists remaining (some of them have bands that live on with new artists but use the same band names) to include (list from Wikipedia) the Dominoes, the Drifters, the Clovers, the Zodiacs, the Tams, the Tymes, the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Chairmen of the Board, Spiral Staircase and the Foundations. Some Motown groups also fit the genre, including the Swinging Medallions, the O’Kaysions and the Rondells.
Current interest was stoked with the 1980s formation of a nostalgic group called The Society of Stranders (SOS), which now holds regular events along the Ocean Drive of South Carolina but also promotes ongoing shag dance clubs and halls, regular awards programs, the National Shag Dance Championships and award TV shows. A few new beach music songs stoke interest written by Rick Lawson, General Johnson, Joey Ramone, Jimmy Buffett, Uncle Kracker, Lady Antebellum, Josh Turner, Blake Shelton, Alabama and Kenny Chesney.
Some of the Ocean Drive beach music and shag clubs and halls now entertain thousands of locals and tourists each weekend, often with long entry lines and standing-room-only crowds. Popular places include Fat Harolds (1982, Harold Bessent), Ducks Night Life (1992, several owners, now David Shaw), Pirates Cove Lounge (1995) and the OD (from Ocean Drive) Pavilion(s) (from 1940, several locations, dance clubs since 1954, H. Lee Brown).
An important word to the wise: Do NOT use the word “shag” outside the United States unless speaking in a clear dance or music context.
Dance the night away.