David Lauderdale

Beaufort takes state dance global

A sea of shaggers fill the gymnasium at the North Myrtle Beach Aquatic and Fitness Center Sept.24 in an attempt to set a Guinness world record.
A sea of shaggers fill the gymnasium at the North Myrtle Beach Aquatic and Fitness Center Sept.24 in an attempt to set a Guinness world record. Photo by Matt Silfer for the (Myrtle) Beach Sun News

Woody Oakley of Beaufort was 14 when he learned to dance the shag in a converted gas station in Rose Hill, N.C.

He doesn't remember being taught what is now South Carolina's official state dance. And he surely didn't know that people dropping quarters in a juke box for three rhythm and blues songs were part of what would become a Carolina cultural phenomena.

Oakley, now 67, is doing all he can to see that the phenomena associated with beach music and the shag will never die.

That's why he and his wife, Sara, joined 744 shag dancers last weekend on a dance floor that was a far cry from an old gas station. Their goal was to set a Guinness World Record as the "Largest Carolina Shag Dance" to bring attention to the shag.

The Beaufort Shag Club sent 58 dancers -- more than any of 100 other shag clubs -- to North Myrtle Beach when the Society of Stranders organized the dance for the record.

It is yet to be certified by Guinness. But organizers believe the record will show that 744 people gathered at the North Myrtle Beach Aquatic & Fitness Center on Sept. 24 and danced five minutes to Rick Strickland's "Something Smooth" with shag legends Jackie McGee and Charlie Womble calling the steps.

Anne Henry of Jacksonville, Fla., organized the event to bring attention to a dance that's become a piece of Carolina culture.

"We've got to keep this thing going," she said. "We're like a huge family. It's good exercise. It's fun. It's almost like a reunion every time we get together."

Shaggers do a lot of gathering. The record dance took place during one of three annual major migrations of beach music and shag dancing fans to North Myrtle Beach. About 13,000 registered for the 10-day event, which local businesses love. They dance at the Spanish Galleon, the Ocean Drive Pavilion, Duck's Beach Club, Fat Harold's Beach Club, the Pirate's Cove Lounge, the OD Arcade & Lounge, and the OD Beach Club.

The Beaufort Shag Club meets at the AMVETS on Ribaut Road, with 70 or so people dancing each Wednesday night. Closer to 100 usually come to another dance one Saturday night per month. It offers free events for young people. The Hilton Head Island Shag Club meets every Friday night at Remy's and offers lessons each Tuesday.

Woody Oakley hopes to pull more young people onto the dance floor. Junior SOS gatherings at North Myrtle Beach are growing, but Oakley still says it "bothers me immensely" that more young people don't dance.

"If you were born after 1960, you don't tend to dance," he said. "When we were teenagers, that's pretty much what we did."

They went to small clubs in the most remote places. In Wallace, N.C., even the bus station had a juke box and little dance floor, he said. They still have reunions for the popular dances at places like Williams Lake or White Lake in rural North Carolina.

In Faison, N.C., where pickles were king, a packing shed with old wooden floors was converted to a dance hall. Oakley remembers dancing there to The Mighty Blue Notes of Kinston, N.C.

At the beach, they danced at a hole in the wall at Ocean Drive called The Pad; or Roberts Pavilion, which was destroyed by Hurricane Hazel in 1954; Sonny's Pavilion in Cherry Grove, which was destroyed by Hurricane Hazel, rebuilt, then destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989; or pavilions at Folly Beach or Pawleys Island.

In Beaufort County, a club called Bailey's in Okatie was the hot spot.

Dancing was much more than shaking hips and gyrating arms, Oakley said. He defines the shag as couples "moving their feet in a somewhat organized manner in time with the beat of the music."

"It's a sad thing that young people don't dance anymore," Oakley said. "They're missing a lot of fun."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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