Where’d You Guys Learn to Shag?

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!

2 thoughts on “Where’d You Guys Learn to Shag?”

  1. LOL YOU knew I would comment on this. HEHEHE. Yelp, The Shag is the State Dance of South Carolina, in case you didn’t know this fact. Ande we are very proud of our Dance. (Smiling) I remember back in early 50’s Mama teaching Byron to dance (jitterbug)in the kitchen at 727 Pavillion. And I, of course, learned the steps watching them there in that large kitchen. I have always loved to dance, just like my Mama. Basic step of the jitterbug is the basic step of the shag. Only difference is you smoothly move your feet from the waist down – not involving your shoulders or upper torso or so I found out to my embarrassment one summer night at The Pad, Ocean Drive, SC. THE place to go at that time to Shag. As you can imagine, summer of 1966, think cigarette smoke and heavy smell of PBR, wooden floor and basically a wooden shack. The young man (I will not call him a gentleman – another story) I was with and my best friend, Suzy, and her date couldn’t wait to get away from her mother (who we loved) but being 18 years old at the time, you know. My date was from Myrtle and we worked together at SCHD, he was a Carolina student. Anyhoo — we hit the dance floor, me totally self confident in my dancing ability – learned quickly I wasn’t supposed to “bounce” doing the Shag.!!!! And when I say QUICKLY I mean just that. Date yelled “DON”T BOUNCE”!!! Thereby, my embarrassment. But I LEARNED! Obviously. But a lesson I have never forgot. And over the years held me in good stead with other dance partners dancing the Shag with many compliments on my ability.

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