Some things are such an institution in the South that I sometimes forget that newcomers might not be familiar with them. Like tomato sandwiches. I met a lady the other day who was a grown-up before she ever had one.
What I really have in mind here, though, is shag dancing. Long before Myrtle Beach was known as a golf resort, it was a retreat for laid-back loafers and the lifestyle of shag. And it is a lifestyle: friendly folks, cool drinks and a healthy mix of nostalgia and innovation.
Shag dancing was born on the Carolina coast. With a six-count pattern similar to swing dancing, shag developed a smooth style with intricate footwork that some say is almost a conversation between the dance partners' feet.
Shag dancers from all over gather at 10-day events along Ocean Drive in North Myrtle Beach every year, one in the spring and one in the fall. Most members of the Society of Stranders, will make a pilgrimage there, where parades and parties bring friends together. The Strand's shag clubs, such as Fat Harold's and Ducks, admit SOS members free during these events.
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In Sherrills Ford, The Landing Restaurant on Slanting Bridge Road is home to a weekly shag party. On a recent Wednesday, I caught up with DJ Donnie “Fish” Meadows. He doesn't spin every week, but he is a regular on the dance floor.
After more than 20 years, Meadows says he's still into shag for three reasons. “It's the dance, the music and the people. The people are real friendly.”
While beach music such as that of the Drifters and the Catalinas is most often associated with shag dancing, I was surprised to hear Meadows spinning a Sheryl Crow tune at The Landing. And I was even more surprised to find Gnarls Barkley's “Crazy” on the list of the top 50 songs of 2007 compiled by the Association of Beach and Shag Club DJ's. “You can shag dance to any kind of music,” Meadows says.
While most stranders are baby boomers, the shag is also popular with a growing number of teens and young adults. Meadows says that he's seen teens incorporate other types of dances into shag steps – even the moonwalk.
The dance has also evolved since its inception.
Meadows says that shag at one time spotlighted the male partner's dance steps, but it now includes “mirror” steps and more complex steps for the female partner.
“There's a lot of turns now (so) that the lady really looks good,” he says.
The Landing is not the only place to check out the shag scene. Lake Norman Shag Club (www.lakenormanshagclub.com) meets the first Saturday of each month at Cowans Ford Country Club. Other places to shag: Fat Boys in Mooresville, Safari Miles in Denver and Havana Social Club in Huntersville.