Wanna-be beach bums, washed-up lifeguards, urban cowboys and leather-clad bikers.
Former disco divas and homecoming queens, bobby-socked boppers and lifetime members of NOW.
Democrats and Republicans. Catholics and Protestants. Earthy country folk and posh city slickers. NASCAR fans and NASDAQ watchers.
All these and many more from every walk of life made up the cast of characters shagging the night away Saturday at Pinecrest Country Club, as more than 100 members of the Carolina Shaggers had their bodies in motion at the club's monthly shindig.
And while the great debate over the origin of shag continues, history wasn't on the minds of this group. Beginners and longtime shaggers showed up in a celebration of a dance that has been around forever, but seems to resurface every decade or so with a new wrinkle and new crowd joining the revival.
Carolina Shaggers was formed two years ago when members of the Dillon Shag Club and the Tri-County Shag Club united. It is a private club for singles and couples age 21 and over.
Visitors must be escorted by a member, and it is from this process the club continues to prosper, boasting 171 members. Members of other shag clubs must seek permission or ask a member to come to the monthly dances at Pinecrest.
The club occasionally has competition shaggers perform exhibitions. These competitions are not limited to age. Junior shaggers have their own organization.
Many members were taught to shag by Hollis Britt and Brenda Prease. Shag brought Britt and Prease together and appears to be a cohesive force in keeping them united.
Britt learned how to shag 14 years ago to catch the eye of Prease, an established dance instructor. Romantic sparks followed. They have been dating ever since and teaching shag wherever they wander, including regular gigs with the Lumberton Parks and Recreation Department.
"Shagging is something that two people can do together," Britt said. "That is one of its great appeals - how it brings people together. Once a couple shows up, they find a great group of people to socialize with. It's something for people age 21 to 81."
The average age of shag dancers is in the mid- to upper-40s, according to Cameron Britt, the club's vice president. But he said many shaggers perform the dance at a young age and then return to it many years later.
"It was like that for me ... I shagged in the '70s, but to the Old White Lake shuffle (an older style of shag)," Britt said. "In the 80s it changed, becoming more technical. I came back again in 1999."
When Britt returned, the dance of choice was the Myrtle Beach Shag, which had different movements and beats than the Old White Lake Shag. But it didn't take Britt and new wife, Beverly, long to catch on to the new groove.
"The Myrtle Beach Shag has six counts and eight steps," Prease says of the current shag favorite. "It's one and two, three and four ... five, six."
To an uneducated observer, many shag dances appear slow and methodical. But anyone who has stepped on the dance floor in an attempt to shag knows it is not that simple.
Frank Jones, the club's president, learned to shag 10 years ago.
"Hollis showed me the steps and Brenda taught me the dance," he said. "You have to have good instructors, but to get real good you have to practice, practice, practice. But that too can be a lot of fun."
Dixon and Linda Ivey are approaching their 60s, but were young enough at heart to give shagging a try two months ago.
"After the first month, I really began to enjoy it, and that's coming from one of the most uncoordinated persons you'll find," said Dixon Ivey, who is director of the Public Utilities for the City of Lumberton. "It's good exercise and really helps with my back problems."
Dyanne Stone, the club's secretary, said she has shagged her entire life, but it is the social aspect that drives her and many others to shag.
"I love the friendships that you develop," she said. "For me, and people I know, what we come here to do has more to do with our relationships. Plus, we also line dance and do other type of dances."
Cameron Britt believes that shag's success comes from the fact that it encompasses so many different things.
"Besides being a Southern tradition, we shag to anything that has that steady, rhythmic beat," he said.
The Carolina Shaggers are also community-minded, donating time and money to various nonprofit organizations throughout the year.
"I've not found a nicer group of people to fellowship with or who care more than what I've found here," Hollis Britt said. "And for those who want to pursue it, there are competitive dances out there where you can make money. At the upper levels, shagging requires a lot of discipline, speed and skill. It takes four weeks to a year for a beginner to develop muscle memory.
"Practice is the name of the game," Britt said. "A couple works together so long that they anticipate one another and play off that. It's just beautiful to watch. It all looks so natural when in fact some of it is not so much planned as it is conceived through practice habits."
Shag has not always been in the spotlight, but it has never gone away. It has evolved over the years to take in influences from different genres.
It is the official dance of the state of South Carolina, but many North Carolina residents swear it originated in the Tar Heel state.
Most people think beach music and shagging are synonymous. However, there are those who insist that isn't the case.
One Internet site, operated by John Hook, actually refutes this entirely. He says shag came before the Lindy Hop and the Jitterbug and that it doesn't come from swing. He says these myths are rampant, and most shag stories miss or leave out 90 percent of its Southern history. According to shagdance.com, there have been six waves of shag. The first started in 1945 and ended with Hurricane Hazel in November 1954. During this time, its influence came from R&B, blues and jump blues played on juke boxes in "white's only" clubs in the Southeast.
It was the predominant dance at places like Smitty's Beach in Charlotte, Williams Lake near Fayetteville, Sunset Beach and many armories and dance halls.
The devastation of pavilions, piers and other houses and getaways by Hazel caused change in the state of shag in North Carolina and the entire Southeast.
The second wave started in the late 1950s and was signaled by the arrival of beach bands like The Embers, The Catalinas and The Venturas , and television shows in Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh. This was when shaggers and beachgiggers took to the beaches in earnest. The music was driven by R&B.
The third wave, which runs from 1962 to 1970, was marked by the activity of baby boomers in their prime years. This generation didn't have time to hang out at lake or beach houses, and were instead working to get there children through college, paying off houses and working in the military. That being the case, beach music and the shag had to come to them. And it did via television and groups like The Drifters, The Impressions and The Marvelettes, and from radio stations throughout North Carolina and the South. If there was a juke box, it had beach music on it, and shaggers were stoking away at the midnight oil. Shag music from this period was heavily influenced by the sounds of Motown.
Shag dodged rock 'n' roll and disco during its fourth wave, which ran from 1970-79. It nearly died out during this time, but a key moment came in 1977 when The Embers scored a national hit with "I Love Beach Music."
Something old became new again during the fifth wave, which covered 1980-95. This was a time when beach and shag welcomed all forms of music, including disco and rock, and when radio stations re-tuned or refocused to the beach sounds.
The Website says the sixth wave of shag began in 1995, when recreation departments, private clubs, colleges, YMCAs and others began offering shag lessons, and when the Southeast realized its unique heritage through dance and music.
That's when shag began going mainstream.
Whether this is fact or fiction is totally irrelevant to most shaggers, many of whom wouldn't know or care about shagging's history.
"We just wanna' dance," Cameron Britt said. "Who cares anyway?"
In the groove
Local radio stations that carry "shagging" music include 105.7 FM in Elizabethtown, which plays beach and oldies, and 94.7 FM in Myrtle Beach, S.C., which plays predominantly beach music.
And there are numerous styles of music and venues to attract shaggers.
"Shag is now everywhere," said Hollis Britt. "It's up and down the coast, from Virginia to Florida, in Pennsylvania, in Rhode Island, up in Ohio and even out in California."
Two times a year, Myrtle Beach's SOS Club goes all out for extravaganzas that attract a sea of shaggers at numerous nightclubs and dance halls. During this time, 10,000 to 15,000 shaggers invade Myrtle Beach.
Popular shag hangouts in Myrtle Beach include:
- Ducks at 229 Main Street - (843) 249-3858.
- Fat Harold's Beach Club at 100 South Ocean Blvd. - (843) 249-5779.
- Pirate's Cove at 205 Main St. - (843) 249-8942.
- Spanish Galleon at 100 N Ocean Blvd. - (843) 249-1047.
- O.D. Lounge at 100 S Ocean Blvd. - (843) 249-6460.
Britt and Hollis teach a beginners and an advanced shag class on Mondays at the Pine Street Senior Center. Cost is $30. For information on the classes, call 671-3869.