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 step, a deceptively complex six or eight count rhythm in 4/4 time, depending on your method of arithmetic.
If you danced hard all season, perhaps by Labor Day you would be able to hold your basic on the beat, for a single repetition of “Sixty Minute Man.” If you got that far, you were actually transformed. You were no longer a sheep standing at the edge of the crowd. If you could dance, it didn’t matter if you had a large mole between your eyes. You could be buck-toothed, knock-kneed and dirt poor. If you could Shag, you were part of the crowd that had the fever and set the pace.
If you had talent and the courage to invent the dance as you went along, in short, if you became an artist; the crowds at the old pavilions would gather around you. The tourists would feed the jukebox just to watch you unwind. The girls would follow you from dance floor to dance floor. They’d do your laundry on Saturday, iron your trousers and starch your collar stiff.
Whether you realized it or not, you were more than a local celebrity; you were an originator on the cutting edge of a brand new medium in terpsichorean culture, a unique social dance, that in time would generate its own folk lore and mythic heroes.