Entries by Jess Dennis

Florentine Patio

Among the originators of the Shag was a bright-eyed kid from Florence, South Carolina, the night owl, Billy Jeffers. Billy had trouble with asthma as a kid. He grew up in the humid tobacco country just inland of the beaches and had to take life easier than most rascals. He was a natural athlete, and […]

Rosy Red Magic Box

There were only a few hundred thousand jukeboxes scattered around the United States prior to World War II. In North and South Carolina they were few and far between. They waited to be played in the well-lighted basements of country clubs, in drug stores near soda fountains and on the decks of public swimming pools. […]

Society of Stranders

Nostalgia for the Shag took root in the early Seventies. Competitive dancing rescued the art from oblivion. In 1980, an old lifeguard from Richmond, Virginia, Gene Laughter, thought he’d throw a party for a couple of hundred ex-beach bums and mature magnolias. Thousands of people showed up. Ocean Drive, that is, North Myrtle Beach was […]

Philosophical Shaggers

The Pad was dilapidated on the day it opened in the mid-Fifties, and it stayed that way for thirty-nine summers. The interior of the place sort of fermented over the years. The rafters and upright supports became collage-like with graffiti. The scrawled signatures and initials of future banking executives, safecrackers, beauty queens, doctors, lawyers, and […]

Wild Peacocks

In the late Thirties and early Forties, the Shag was performed to swing music, the jazzy sound of the big bands. As the Swing Era waned, the Shag continued to evolve to a new beat, that of race music, the forbidden melodies that were the godfathers of rock ‘n’ roll. Like the racy new sounds, […]


In the old days, it was not cool to learn to Shag in public. You stood rather sheepishly in the crowd and watched the top dancers work out. You tried to mentally photograph their moves. Later, you went home and danced with a doorknob or a bedpost, hour after hour, just to learn the basic […]

Ode to Subtle Wildness

A timeless moon is rising above the memory of a beach town. Beyond the town is a restless ocean, and somewhere near the water’s edge are the dance floors. The people are crowded around unseen jukeboxes. Rhythm and blues music hovers in the air above the old pavilions. Amid the music and the memories, beach […]

Red Hot Heart

In the Land of Shag the dance of romance goes on. Holding hands at the edge of the floor feels dangerous. The music touches you, as it did when the song was new. When young, foolish, and racing to be in love, you fell into it, or jumped, as often as the records on the […]

Say Yes

“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 […]