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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 this made the limitations of his breathing disorder doubly difficult to accept. During adolescence one of his high school gym teachers convinced him to workout daily in a double thickness of sweat clothes. Slowly, these workouts built his endurance and lung power, and over time, his problems with asthma lessened.

In 1937, the summer Billy turned sixteen, he took up dancing as a hobby. He and the Florence crowd would meet at the Timrod Park swimming pools, and in the late afternoons, when the heat of the day subsided, they’d circle behind the pool deck to a lattice enclosed patio, where a jukebox sat.

The dances Billy learned were the Big Apple, the Little Apple, and then he discovered the Lindy Hop and the wild Jitterbug. His experience with asthma, in addition to a Southern habit of living life at an easier pace, naturally included Billy to slow the Jitterbug down.

During the summer of 1938, Jeffers lived in Ocean Drive. He stayed all season in a a beach cottage with another Florentine dancer named Robert Quarrels. They didn’t work much. The man who ran the hamburger grill at Roberts Pavilion fed them periodically. Neither food nor sleep were major priorities.

Outside the bedroom window of their cottage, they drove a tall wooden stake into the ground to act as a makeshift sundial. When they woke up after a late night of dancing, they peered out the window to check the length of the shadow cast by the sundial. When the shadow became short enough, indicating a genteel relationship with high noon, they would crawl out of bed, step into baggy pairs of shorts and wander out onto the beach, there to make light conversation with the budding magnolias and sunburned peaches.

Billy says about five o’clock in the afternoon, he and the other male dancers would saunter up to the jukebox at Roberts Pavilion. Under the shade roof of the open patio, they’d wait for a tourist to drop a nickel in the Wurlitzer. As the hot records rotated, bold young women would drift toward the rhythm, sashay up the wooden steps, and the dancing would start.