In 1927, the Savoy Ballroom opened in Harlem, and it became the place to dance. While New York was the center of the dance world, the Savoy was the Mecca. The popularity of Swing coincided with Big Band Music and Charles Lindbergh popularity, hence the name Lindy Hop. In 1929, it was danced at the World’s Fair and just as the Charleston was the dance of the Roaring 20s, Lindy became the most popular dance during “The Age of Dance” which spanned through three decades. Dancers became known as Hep Cats and Jitterbuggers. Lindy evolved from other dances; it produced other forms of Swing.
In 1936, the Big Apple became the talk of South Carolina. Its early beginnings were at the Big Apple, a night club in Columbia, SC. It was a swing dance performed in an outer circle and in the center there were couples dancing in a spot.
Personal interpretations, varied characteristics, geography and music styles would lead to variations and new names of Swing. Interpretations such as Single Step rather than Triple Step developed, and characteristics such as Spots, Slots Two Hands and One Hand evolved. Geographical names such as St. Louis Imperial, Dallas Push, Houston Whip, West Coast Swing, Hollywood Savoy, Carolina Shag, Beach Bop, D.C. Hand Dancing, and East Coast Swing became common. Music changed from Big Band Swing to R&B. The term “Jitterbug” meant different things to different people.
Carolina Shag grew out of the Lindy Hop and its local cousin, the Big Apple. In its early form, Carolina Shag was called Fast Dancing and the dancers were referred to as “Jitterbuggers” and, in some cases, “Beach Cats”. Like East Coast Swing, it was a Spot Dance rather than a Slot Dance. However, it eventually developed a West Coast Slot.
While some differ as to its actual birthplace, most historians believe it was Myrtle Beach, SC in the mid 1940s. With that said, however, the dances grew due, in large part, to the ocean front pavilions located at nearly every beach along the Grand Strand of South Carolina and the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. The dance grew off the coast and into the inland cities of the Carolinas. Like many forms of dancing, each beach or city had their own distinct Shag look.
As the music changed to Motown, the dance smoothed out and continued to refine during the 50s. In the Carolinas, local radio stations began hosting R&B shows and local “beach bands” were playing to local audiences throughout the south. When the Pad opened in Ocean Drive, it became the Savoy of the South.
The invasion of Rock & Roll in the 60s and Disco in the 70s hindered the spread of Shag but it re-emerged with the organization of competitive shagging and the Shag Preservation Associations. In 1977, Beach Music and Shag hit another growth on the club front as the Embers released the song, “I Love Beach Music”.
In 1980, the Society of Stranders was organized as a reunion of “beach bums” and later would foster the growth of Shag and beach music. Today, SOS is a corporation owned by Shag Clubs throughout the Atlantic Seaboard. In the 90s, the Association of Beach and Shag Club DJs and the Cammy Awards helped to re-create the magic of the past by promoting the Beach and Blues Music.
Article authored by DJ Kevin Twohig