State dance. South Carolina’s official state dance since 1984, the “Shag” is southern swing tempered by the influences of jazz, blues, and gospel music. Though few agree on its exact origins, pioneering dancers in the Shag Hall of Fame (all Caucasians) credit the dance’s modern evolution to a taboo collaboration with African Americans that occurred in the segregated Carolinas during the late 1940s.
Called “jitterbugs” for the jazz-based acrobatic dance they performed along the Carolina coast, the white dancers found that the emerging “race” music (soon to be renamed “rhythm and blues”) slowed and smoothed their movements. “The shag is the jitterbug on Quaaludes . . .[,] the jitterbug slowed down,” noted the veteran Myrtle Beach dancer Dino Thompson.
A key site of the biracial dance collaboration was a black nightclub in Myrtle Beach owned by the black impresario Charlie Fitzgerald. “I first heard the term shag at Charlie’s Place,” said George Lineberry, a shag pioneer who left the beach in 1948. “I think the shag and dirty shag came out of Charlie’s nightclub.”
In black clubs the white dancers discovered and adapted erotic dance movements that mimicked the act of copulation. Called the “dirty shag,” this cruder dance reflected the very definition of the word “shag,” which, according to The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang, means “to have sex with.” The belly roll, often cited as the ultimate shag step, originated from the dirty version of the dance.
Blacks, said the shag innovator Harry Driver, had a huge impact on how the dance evolved. “What we learned from the blacks was their rhythm and tempo. We emulated what they did. Everybody claims to have started the shag. Nobody started it. It evolved from one dance to another in a big melting pot.” Fifty years later dozens of shag clubs remained active throughout the South, while thousands of shaggers converged each year in North Myrtle Beach, a community that preserved its dance legacy.
Rogers, Aida. “Shaggin’.” Sandlapper 1 (July/August 1990): 12–18.