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On paper, the South Carolina state dance looks like a wall flower: Step, one, two -- back, one, two -- rock step -- step, one, two -- back, one two -- rock step.
Thank God they don't do the shag on paper.
The dance -- and the soft drive of the rhythm and blues "beach music" that fuels it -- bored deep into the soul of coastal Carolina at least 50 years ago, and it won't let go.
"I promise you, I think it's in your blood," said Iva Welton of Hilton Head. She's on the planning committee for a charitable event that will bring the state dance to center stage.
The Carolina Spring Fling at the Crowne Plaza Hotel ballroom in Shipyard this Sunday will feature beach music from deejay Jim Bowers and the band Oscar Rivers and Company. The dancing and music will highlight a party to benefit Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse and the Child Abuse Prevention Association.
"I can't remember not being able to shag," said Welton, a native North Carolinian.
"My Peg used to dance on her daddy's shoes," said E.G. Robinson III of Hilton Head. That was in the small town of Kingstree when bright leaf tobacco was king and the pavilions of Myrtle Beach beckoned just 37 miles away.
Carolina teenagers -- many of them now approaching 70 -- grew up shagging on cement and hardwood floors at the beach. The best dancers drew crowds. The best girls were called "a pretty dancah" and the best boys were called "a shaggah," Robinson said.
They spun to the boogie walk, the belly role and the spin -- male and female partners matching step for step the moves they'd practiced back home in front of a mirror.
"The jukebox was like the iPod is today," said Robinson, who moved to Hilton Head Island in 1968 to help develop Palmetto Dunes. He's 66 now, but still can't contain the joy of his youthful summers as a Myrtle Beach lifeguard. One summer he even lived in an apartment above The Pad, the little dive at Ocean Drive that became the highest of holy places of the beach music craze.
African-Americans sang out the "race music" the kids couldn't hear back home -- sometimes for racial reasons but often because country and western was the norm for the few stations they could get.
The Platters, the Clovers, the Showmen, the Drifters built memories, one warm night at a time. Soon their music spread inland to fraternity parties -- and the birth of rock n' roll.
Today, shaggers gather everywhere. When the Hilton Head Shag Club holds its mid-winter bash here in January, they even have a Gospel Shag on Sunday morning.
"It is not a dying art, it is a continuing art," Robinson said. It started out as the eternal expression of freedom for teenagers. But it grew to stitch together the fabric of families, social gatherings and lifestyles.
Hilton Head's beach was never a hotbed for shagging, even though Helen Cork remembers the night she and her late husband, Bill, judged a shag contest at the old William Hilton Inn. And we are fortunate to have a beach music station at 104.9 FM.
"Whether you shag or not, you can be mesmerized by watching," Iva Welton said of Sunday night's party. "This is a fun thing, bringing the state dance to everyone. The premise behind it is celebrating everything Carolina."