Learning how to Shag in Myrtle Beach

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In most parts of the country, you might slap a total stranger who asks you if you want to shag. But on the Grand Strand, and more specifically the historic dance clubs of North Myrtle Beach, such a request is merely another way of asking if you want to dance.

The Carolina shag, the official state dance of South Carolina, was born and bred right here on the beaches of the Grand Strand back in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. Eager teens used to hitchhike their way to the Ocean Drive section of North Myrtle Beach to spend their summer days on the sand and surf, and spend their nights on the dance floor.

The couples dance, which involves a series of spins and turns to the tunes of old-school beach music, continues to fill the clubs and dance floors along the Strand. The love of the dance and the longing for the glory days have kept this traditional alive for future generations. Have you ever heard of another dance craze that lasted 60 years?

The shag certainly qualifies, as thousands of visitors make their way to North Myrtle Beach every season for the SOS (Society of Stranders') regular gatherings. Longtime lovers of the shag gather in the fall, winter, summer and spring to take a stroll down memory lane on the dance floor.

In their desire to keep the shag alive, most shaggers are more than happy to teach a total stranger a few basic steps. The traditional male lead makes it a bit easier for women to pick up the moves, but willing men can let a more experienced women to take the reins and teach them a thing or two.

But for first-timers looking for more formal training, there are organized sag lessons at various bars on the Strand as well as dance studios who teach a wide range of dances. However you decide to learn the South Carolina state dance, the idea is to have a good time. Here are a few places where you can do both:

* Fat Harold's Beach Club: This legendary shag spot is the local headquarters for many longtime shaggers, although a nice mix of younger dancers who have picked up the shag create a fun environment. Fat Harold's hosts free shag lessons on Mondays and Tuesdays at 7 p.m., giving patrons the chance to learn some new steps and make some new friends.  One of them might even be the bar's namesake himself, Fat Harold Bessinger, who is considered a legendary founding father of the Carolina shag and still knows how to cut a mean rug.

* Ocean Drive Arcade & Lounge: This unassuming beach bar is also one of the founding establishments of the Carolina shag. Teens would walk up from the beach to take a break from the sun and hit the dance floor, which is covered with sand and sawdust to allow your feet to slide and glide more easily. No organized lessons are scheduled but the OD Lounge frequently holds open dance nights when more experienced shaggers show newcomers the ropes.

* Spanish Galleon: This famous dance club now caters to dancers of all kinds of style and music, but stays true to its roots by hosting major shag events, such as the National Shag Dance Championships, and holding frequent SOS gatherings with live beach music. But if you are the kind of dancers who enjoys all sorts of steps, from country line dancing to modern hip-hop and rock, this is your place. Learn how to shag from experienced dancers and take a break from learning worth some more freestyle steps.


(Posted: 3/17/15)