Entries by Jess Dennis

A Thanksgiving Poem for the Road 

I remember having Thanksgiving dinner. Once at a bus station lunch counter. The turkey breast Tasted like tennis shoe rubber. The gray, coagulated Giblet gravy was stiff as jello. The bus station smelled Like cigarettes and bacon grease. I was eighteen years old. It was my first Thanksgiving Away from family. The romance of the […]

S.O.S. Origins

Gene Laughter, an ex-lifeguard from the Fifties—nicknamed “Swink,” was a mischievous and creative man. He used to entertain his family on summer vacations by writing notes and putting them into bottles, then casting these into the ocean. This practice became elaborate and got out of hand in 1978. A note on an aged parchment found […]

Hard-Core Cadre

SOS is in full swing in Myrtle Beach. The faithful and hardcore come together to dance. The crowds pack a six-block area of North Myrtle Beach. The Shag joints are jumping. There are no fights in the streets nor even a serious frown in the crowd. The overriding emotion seems to be love. Always in […]

Hurricane Unanimity

As Irma approaches, I offer the observation that loosing everything must be more than anyone can bear alone. Let us all be spiritual victims of hurricane destruction. Oh God of Light Let all survive The fury Of the wind And the rage Of the terrible Sea

Big Apple, Little Apple

Most Southern kids who became Shaggers, had been previously influenced by a “circle” dance called the Big Apple, and its first cousin, the Little Apple. Both were fad dances that came and went with great flourish and popularity among white kids in the late Thirties, prior to the arrival of the Jitterbug. The Spivey brothers […]

Cool Sip

The Jitterbug, like the Shag, was a social dance. It served no religious or ritualistic function. However, through its performers, the patterns of the dances reflected the overall environment of the times. The Jitterbug justified overt pelvic contact. On ballroom floors across the nation, male dignity and female conservatism took a back seat to daring […]

Bring Your Feet – SOS Fall Migration

SOS is September 15 – 24, 2017 at the beach this year. What do you get dancing the shag at SOS? Everybody gets what they come for.  That’s my impression. I hoped SOS wouldn’t end before it got old. You never want the music to stop, to go back where you come from, where the rules […]


Waking up in the dark, before the earth rotates and the sun appears to rise, I sit on the edge of a bed, facing a wall-size mirror. I position myself so the mirror divides my reflection: half I can see, as if the mirror were the past, where in the mud of memory, I get bogged […]

Pertinent Points

“Dancing is a vertical expression of horizontal desire,” said Robert Frost, maybe America’s most famous poet. The first time I heard that line quoted I wondered who said it first. I was in a crowd of shag dancers. I can’t remember who told me, but at the time, I asked, thinking “vertical expression of horizontal […]