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Reprinted from The Herald-Sun, Durham, NC
Sunday, July 14, 1996
By Larry Bingham, Fayetteville Observer Times

There are only 30 minutes left in class and Bill West is explaining for the umpteenth time how a man maneuvers a woman through the pivot step.

He is marching through the step with his arm across the waist of an invisible partner. He is slow and deliberate, talking over his shoulder as he turns.

"OK," he says. "Ready to try that to music?"

For the four men and seven women who have paid $30 to be on this basketball court on a Wednesday night, this is learning to dance like a Southerner.

This is learning to shag.

There is no dance more associated with the South than shagging, and no place more accommodating to shaggers than the South.

Learning to shag is learning to be a Southerner.

It is learning to hear the ocean in your head and the music in your step.

It is learning to bend your knees, relax your shoulders, and shuffle, slide and spin while The Embers sing about wise men and falling in love.

Tonight's class -- seven Southerners (from Virginia to Mississippi) and four Yankees -- has advanced from the basic step, the female and male turns, to the side pass and the boogie walk.

Now, the pivot step.

West is on the gymnasium foul line, demonstrating.

Again.

West who looks like a grown-up beach boy with a surfer's crop of blond hair, sells furniture for a living and teaches shagging once a week at Fayetteville Technical Community College.

He is trying, at the moment, to understand why Sue continues to land on her left foot instead of her right.

Like many aspiring shaggers, Sue was enchanted the first time she saw the dance.

"I've watch it on TV, and I thought it looked so smooth and it looked so effortless and it wasn't all these wild gyrations, and it was something a middle-aged person could do," says Sue, who is 52 years old, from all over the South, and about to master the pivot.

But she cautions: "It's not as easy as it looks."

To shag is to dance forward and back. It is to dance a one-and-two, three-and four, five-six count.

West and most historians agree that the dance was born on the shores of Myrtle Beach, SC.

Time was, a shagger could tell where you were from by the way you moved. Everybody danced the same steps, but the style in Atlantic Beach was different from that in Wilmington or Carolina Beach.

Shagging has become so homogenized that West says the regional flavors, like dialects, have all buy disappeared.

Even the Motown music West learned from -- 39 years ago in his bedroom, in his brother's loafers -- has evolved these days to include Country & Western and classic rock 'n' roll.

What has not changed is the attraction. West says only once in his lifetime has its popularity wavered, and that was when the disco carpetbaggers swept through the South with the hustle and the bump.

West believes shagging survived, and is still popular, because the South grows with every census, and Myrtle Beach has ballooned with thousands of tourists from Canada to California carrying home a souvenir: The Shag.

Shagging has even found a home on the Internet with a Web site guide dancers to clubs in every Southern city: from Choo-Choo Chattanooga to The Little Rock Bop Club to The Twisters of Cornelius (NC). (Has he been to the Bungalow???)

Shaggers are born, but shaggers can be made.

West says his classes have been packed the last two years, with men and women from their 20's to their 60's.

If there is anything difficult about shagging, it is making it smooth, West says. The steps are not complicated, but finding the rhythm in the music can be.

Louis calls himself "rhythm-challenged."

He's 32 years old, a native of Reston, VA and a guy who thought the bump was difficult. He argues that he was always a Southerner, now he can prove it if he can find the rhythm.

The toughest part of the dance says his girlfriend, Angela, is putting what she learned with what he learned and then putting all that to music. She's 24 years old, and the class was her idea.

West has promised them all that if they master the basic step, and if they practice, they can go to any Southern dance floor, any Myrtle Beach patio, any deck, dune, or Happy Hour where beach music is playing, and they can shag right in.

Jessie, who is West's shagging partner, says the only thing as Southern as shagging is collard greens. Or maybe grits.

Jessie learned to shag while growing up in Red Springs, when the lessons came from a girlfriend, a door frame, and a book on her head to keep her steps butter smooth.

So does shagging make Jessie a better Southerner?

"It contributes to that," Jessie drawls.

"That and my 'ak-SENT,'" she says, "make me real."

 

(Please note that the complete names from the article have not been given to protect their privacy.)