Rediscovering Shag Dancing
Doin’ the Shag: South Carolina’s state dance still alive and kicking in Georgetown
Learning the Shag, South Carolina’s official dance, known for fancy footwork, twirling and gliding in step with your partner, is now a whole lot easier in Georgetown.
Bill and Brenda Barber, a six-time National Shag Champion couple, are now teaching the iconic dance to anyone who is willing and able to learn. Free lessons take place from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. every other Thursday at Castaway’s Bar and Grill at 833 Front St., with Shag dancing afterward until 10 p.m.
“It is a cool dance that makes people feel good and it brings the generations together,” Bill Barber said. “We all have some addiction. Ours is Shag dancing!”
Those who have taken lessons or already know the dance can practice their moves on other Thursdays from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. That is when Castaway’s own DJ Buff spins beach music favorites and other songs suited for the Shag.
These local lessons are just part of a statewide movement to keep the Shag and beach music alive and thriving. To be part of the action locally, people can join the Grand Strand Shag Club, which meets weekly at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Murrells Inlet.
Barber and other Shag enthusiasts are urging people who are interested to give the dance a try. Anne Forbes, a Georgetown resident who is responsible for bringing the Barbers to Castaway’s, said she is glad she could help connect people in Georgetown learn the Shag.
“I thought it would be great to have some young people learn and see them go through the process,” she said. “It’s a really healthy hobby or passion or whatever you want to call it, especially if you enjoy music, and lessons are not usually free.”
Forbes added that she personally loves the Shag because it puts a smile on her face.
“It’s hard to explain the feeling you get out on the dance floor when you are gliding around with your partner,” she said. “It takes all your troubles away.”
Named the official state dance by the South Carolina legislature in 1984, the Shag has been synonymous with warm sand, cold beer and beach music (the official popular music of South Carolina) for more than a half-century. A form of Southern swing, the dance began along the Grand Strand as early as the 1920s.
John “Bubber” Snow III, who served in the S.C. House of Representatives for 20 years, introduced the bill that made the Shag the state’s official dance.
Snow, now 89, said he’s happy to see the dance which was once called the Lindy Hop still going strong and being passed down to the next generation.
“The amazing thing about the Shag is that it started in South Carolina,” he said. “I remember the first time I saw people doing the dance when I was 12 years old. It was 1941 and I was with my twin sister, Sissy. I said, ‘Did you see that?’ I asked her if she could do that and she said she could.”
By the next summer, Snow and his sister were ready to try the dance at a club called Reds in the morning and afternoon, and the Pawleys Island Pavilion at night. He said he commends the Barbers for teaching the dance.
“They are doing a great job,” Snow said. “It is really nice to see people learning the Shag.”
Barber said he enjoys the Shag because it keeps the mind sharp and helps men and women better understand each other.
“Dancing the Shag sets off electrical impulses in the brain and keeps it active,” Barber said. “It also makes you appreciate women a lot more since you’re connecting with them and communicating on another level.”
The Barbers, who have enjoyed shag dancing for decades, said they try to keep it simple when teaching the dance, but people usually catch on fast and move on to more complicated dance moves.
Georgetown residents Levon and Sheila Strickland took dance lessons from the Barbers in the summer of 2019.
“These are the best lessons, by far, that we’ve ever had” Sheila Strickland said. “Bill and Brenda are so personable, and they explain it in a way that is so simple.”
Levon Strickland said he thinks it is easier to learn from a couple because Bill teaches the men their part and Brenda teaches the women their part, and then the men and women bring it together.
“That,” he said, “is a big advantage when you are trying to learn.”
Georgetown resident Cathy Turner, who was also taking lessons from the Barbers, said she had a lot of fun learning some new steps.
“The Shag has a certain elegance and sexiness to it,” she said, “and I like that the man is in control. I am going to come back and bring a bunch of gal pals.”
Deborah Mangan, president of the Grand Strand Shag Club, said she’s happy to see so many people putting on their Shag dancing shoes.
The club has been around since 1994 and is part of the Association of Carolina Shag Clubs, which organizes regional events. The club meets each Saturday from 7:30 to 11 p.m. for dance events at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10420 at 4359 Highway 17 Bypass in Murrells Inlet.
“Come Shag with us,” Mangan said. “You don’t have to be a member of the club or the VFW. It is a great group of people who never argue or fight.”
For more information about Shag lessons at Castaway’s Bar and Grill in Georgetown, visit the bar’s Facebook page or Bill and Brenda Barber’s Facebook page. To learn more about the Grand Strand Shag Club, visit www.southstrandsc.com.
–– By Clayton Stairs, tourism manager, Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce