Carolina Shag stands the test of time

South Carolina dance stands the test of time

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Good music and fancy footwork never die.

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Ralph Barbee and Kathy Wade (center) dance during the Shag Classic at Julian Smith Casino. The three-day event was put on by the CSRA Shag Club and had nearly 500 attendees from around the nation.   JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
Ralph Barbee and Kathy Wade (center) dance during the Shag Classic at Julian Smith Casino. The three-day event was put on by the CSRA Shag Club and had nearly 500 attendees from around the nation.

More than half a century after the Carolina Shag swept beachgoers off their feet, professional and amateur dancers continue to spread the Southern dance craze.

Rodney Williams fell in love with the Carolina Shag in the early 1960s while dancing on the pier at Folly Beach, S.C. In 1983, he attended his first event of the Society of Stranders, an organization for “shaggers,” at Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“Thirty years later, I’m still doing it,” said Williams, of North Augusta. “It’s a dance but it’s also a lifestyle.”

Williams never dated anyone who couldn’t dance. He met his wife at a shag event, and they taught their children to shag.

In the Augusta and Aiken area, more than 600 shag dancers participate in the CSRA Shag Club, which holds weekly and annual events. The club was founded in 1985 with 52 members, said Williams, the club president.

The area club is a member of the Association of Carolina Shag Groups, a network of more than 100 shag clubs mainly in the Southeast. Its members travel across the nation for shagging events and competitions.

Earlier this month, nearly 500 dancers from across the Southeast attended the club’s annual CSRA Shag Classic at Julian Smith Casino. With the lights turned down, couples showed off their footwork.

“I’ve got a lot of moves, but some are good and some you just have to know the lady,” said Bill Lewis, of Augusta, who attended the Shag Classic. “I love the music with a beat.”

The official state dance of South Carolina, the Carolina Shag traces its roots to the late 1930s on the beaches between Charleston and Myrtle Beach. The six-count dance diverged from swing dance and was traditionally danced to fast rhythm and blues music.

Shag dancing was a favorite pastime when Johnny Turner, 70, was a teenager growing up in Florence, S.C., where restaurants had slabs for dancing to music played on jukeboxes. Turner learned to shag at age 15 by watching others and repeating their steps.

“You just fell in love with shag and learned how to do it,” Turner said.

The Carolina Shag hasn’t showed signs of fading. Turner taught his teenage granddaughters to shag. Last summer, they went to a Society of Stranders dance event attended by 1,200 teenagers.

Garrett Humphries, 34, of Columbia, started shagging when he was a high school junior. At first, he thought it was a dance for his parents and grandparents.

He was hooked after his first junior dancing contest in 1996.

“You become the hit of the party,” Humphries said.

LeAnn Norris, 33, also of Columbia, started shagging at a young age with her mother as her instructor. She continued dancing, and met her husband, Michael, at a shag event. They have won several top titles at national competitions and teach shag.

Norris said shagging is not a dance of the past, but withstands the test of time.

“There is a large generation of young shaggers,” she said. “We love the music.”

The CSRA Shag Club teaches lessons to dancers ages 7-17 at the Family Y of North Augusta.


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