In The Land of Shag the night is young forever.
Along the coast of the Carolinas, shag dancing is nightlife for an increasing number of Baby Boomers who refuse to give up the ghost of romance.
If growing old is a state mind, shag dancing might be the fountain of youth, laced with a double dose of Love Potion Number 9.
Look for any nightclub where the music is antique rock n roll, golden oldies, original rhythm and blues or the modern equivalent thereof, regionally known as Beach Music. The dance floor will likely be crowded. Dance partners will be holding hands, moving in rhythm. Some will be turning smoothly, into a close-hold position for the “belly roll”, an ironically conservative step that in the 1950’s could get you arrested. Others are “boogie-walking”, “duck-walking”, doing the “fly back” or the “funky apple jack, engaging in “mirror steps,” done as though dancing with the opposite sex as an image in a mirror. The shag can be performed with dazzling complexity. It can also be a simple basic step, almost a therapeutic, moving meditation, if maintained song after song.
Most performers are of an age that could justify the rocking chair. Very few seem to wish they were young again, as in The Land of Shag the old music invigorates determination to refuse the chair. The old songs recall memories that harmonize; nostalgia and the romance of the present moment partner up, and dance the night away.
The collective energy of the crowd is magnetic. Newcomers are frequently hooked, seduced, addicted, whatever you call it that brings you back to the rhythm night after night. Among Baby Boomers, who as teenagers and college students invented The Age of Rock n Roll and volunteered en masse for The Sexual Revolution, shag dancing is a motive and a means for exercising muscle memories of desire, with youthful devotion to carefree times.
Becoming a naturalized citizen in The Land of Shag, learning to dance, is a passport to fun and a virtual invitation to fall in love again. Wallflowers are welcome, though should be aware of an unwritten commandment: no one who’s invited refuses to shag, regardless, no one will turn you down.
The official State Dance of South Carolina, instituted in 1984, is becoming a full blown cultural phenomenon.
In The Land of Shag — a territory stretching from Northern Virginia, down through the Carolinas to Jacksonville, Florida, west across Georgia, into Alabama and Tennessee — North Myrtle Beach is the capitol city. The water tower in the middle of town is blazoned with the silhouettes of dance partners holding hands, below which is written, “Home of the Shag.” All over town, one nightclub after another is committed to the rhythm.
Shag dancing in North Myrtle Beach is an industry. The water tower may indeed represent a fountain of youth, as three times a year — fall, winter, and spring — the town is inundated with migrating dancers, Baby Boomers by the thousands, come to drink, wash, and baptize themselves in the healing waters of “SOS”. The anagram for “Society of Standers” signals the Fall Migration, the Mid-Winter Party, and the Spring Safari, each a marathon celebration of music and shag dancing. Ordinary life is suspended as the rhythm takes hold. For days on end, the party never stops.
When the SOS crowd leaves town, the natives reclaim the nightclubs. The carefree lifestyle of avid dancers is an alternative to retirement for Baby Boomers who refuse the rocking chair. The shag rescues from ordinary life, those who retire, move to the beach, and keep on dancing.
For the generation that conceived the youth culture, invented the obsession with remaining young forever, who declared they would never trust anyone over thirty, and with music that changed the socio-political landscape of America, it is appropriate that the origin of the shag is a rock-n-roll legend.
Beginning in 1943, ten years ahead of Elvis Presley, teenagers along the coast of the Carolinas came in unique contact with music that changed the world. The shag was the first social dance of The Age of Rock-n-Roll. How that happened, how the dance was invented, how it nearly died, and survived to create a fountain of youth laced with Love Potion Number 9 is all part of the story this magazine will publish in a monthly column.
In The Land of Shag Dancing, the party is always on; truly, the music never stops. Coast Life will tell you where to find the action, keep you informed of local and regional events, draw you a map to the fountain of youth.
Baby Boomers committed to the rocking chair prepare to be inspired. Nothing brings back the muscle memory of youth like the music you loved as a carefree kid. Dancing and laughter are the best medicine there is for lonely hearts and lazy legs. Shag dancing is the cure.