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Carolina Shag

If you are into swing dancing and you are from the South, the chances are you don’t need an introduction to the Carolina Shag. This dance form is the swing dance of the South which originated in the late 1930s on the shores of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina’s most popular beach. It is now the Official State Dance of South Carolina. If you head down to Myrtle Beach in March you can attend the ‘Spring Safari’ and join over 15,000 Shaggers in action. The September “Fall Migration” is also a good time to meet up with fellow Shaggers at the beach.

The evolution of beach music

The Carolina Shag is a descendant of the Carolina Jitterbug while its roots can be traced to the cross-pollination of black music and club dancers. Many hardliner mainstream radio stations did not play black music so the fun-loving and carefree white teenagers had to flock to the beaches to hear it on jukeboxes. Early forms of the dance are attributed to Billy Jeffers and Chicken Hicks, two teenagers that attended black night clubs and were permitted to watch from the balcony. They adapted several styles they liked and are also credited with initiating the ‘Beach Music’ phenomenon, best classified as easy going R&B.

Shags, Jitterbugs and beach music

In the Carolina Shag both music and dance are structured on time signature and performed to almost any tempo. The basic step involved is a six count step with a rhythm that is similar to 6 count swing, a triple step, triple step, rock step. The Shag is a sort of lazy jitterbug with soundtracks that are sexy, fun and with an average tempo of 100 – 135 beats per minute. That’s why early shaggers called themselves ‘jitterbugs.’ Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’ is just one of many songs that find place in a shagger’s routine although Elvis Presley’s ‘Return To Sender’ is also on the beach music playlist. Despite being at its peak in the 1960s, there were no bands dedicated to shag music.

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From swing to beach music

Since the Carolina Shag is closely associated with beach music many dancers do not consider it to be a true swing dance although it did originate in the swing era. Carolina beach music still has a massive following so don’t be surprised to 20- and 30-somethings finding their way through the doors of the clubs and theaters, and embrace the Shag traditions of their parents.