In Myrtle Beach, shag dancing is as big of a draw now for tourists and locals alike as it was in the 1930s and ‘40s. Generations of dancers continue the traditional steps that many believe were born here in the strands of the Carolinas. The dance is commonly referred to as the Carolina Shag, and in South Carolina’s culture its roots run deeper than those on a palmetto tree.
As the official “State Dance” of South Carolina, the shag is a relatively simple dance though it can be altered to present a very complex choreography. In its simplest form, it consists of a shuffle that is performed in eight-beats. Dancers count their movements “one-and-two; three-and-four; five, six” with “and” being a distinct step. Veteran dancers regularly embellish these steps with twirls, twists and other whimsical movements as they gracefully swirl around the floor—usually hand-in-hand.
Music choice is an important element for the shag just as it is with any other dance. “Beach music” is the soul of shag dancing. Many describe it as a lifestyle—the type of music that conjures up images of the ocean, driving in a convertible, and relaxing on sunny days. Beach music is derived from R&B hits from the ‘40s and ‘50s and many local radio stations are dedicated to this genre. Serious shaggers will refer novices to standards such as “Summertime’s Calling Me” by The Catalinas, or “Carolina Girls” performed by Chairmen of the Board. The Tams, Temptations, and Isley Brothers have also had hits that are popular with shaggers. Now other music genres such as country and rock are lending their sounds to create the backbone beat for the dance. Most other dances simply move to the beat that was recorded, but for the shag, DJs will speed up or slow down a track to the requisite 120 beats per minute.
Myrtle Beach is home to a number of shag clubs and shaggers from across the U.S. who come here to compete in dance-offs. Go ahead and give it a whirl. And who knows? You may soon be back to the Grand Strand for your new love of shagging.