First of all, we’re not talking Austin Power’s shag here, we’re talking about popular dances! As a kid growing up in Greenfield, OH in the 1950s being able to jitterbug earned you just a little higher step on the socially desirable ladder. We waltzed, we foxtrotted, we twisted, we strolled, but those who were really cool jitterbugged and we jitterbugged differently than what we thought anyone else did.
You could, as we did, run home after school and catch American Bandstand and those Philadelphia kids just weren’t cool because they didn’t jitterbug as we did. Their steps just weren’t as smooth and crisp as ours and there wasn’t the refined coordination between partners like there was with us.
The Greenfield style stayed with me wherever I lived and always caused a problem. Our jitterbug had a little extra step that I could never learn not to do. This meant I always had problems fast dancing with women while bar hopping in Los Angeles and other places life took me. It probably accounts to some degree in explaining why I remained a virgin for so long!
Years later I became ham radio friends with a lot of guys from North and South Carolina. They would talk about going shagging on Saturday nights or while vacationing at the beach. All I know was it was a form of fast dancing that seemed common to the coastal areas of the Southeast, especially the Carolinas.
A few years later I was at a ham radio convention in Savannah and several of us went to a restaurant/club on the coast. One of the guys had his wife with him and after dinner, they wandered into an area that had a live band playing ’50s music. Out of curiosity I went to check it out and was shocked to see my friends dancing in a style (the shag) that was identical to what I had grown up with back in Greenfield. The upper body movements may have differed some but the basic step was the same.
A few years ago my wife and I went to a bar near our home and were doing the jitterbug. Even as old folks we were still pretty good at it. After a couple of dances, a younger guy walked up and asked me where I had learned to shag. He was from South Carolina and had never seen anyone outside his area doing it. We sat down and had at least two beers while discussing how similar our life experiences had been when it came to non-Austin Powers shagging!