Attendees at the Winter Classic presented by the Hilton Head Island Shag Club in January danced the night away to beach music and other dance tunes. PHOTOS BY JEFF KEEFER

Most of us remember the bond and camaraderie we enjoyed in our youth from friendships formed by shared experience. Participation in football, drama clubs, soccer, basketball, cheerleading, or other group activities was not only fun, but it also gave an opportunity to belong to a group that gave us joy.  

That is exactly what members of the Hilton Head Island Shag Club experience through weekly Friday night social dances, five or six parties a year with music and dinner, and their annual Winter Classic in January. 

The Winter Classic draws shag dancers from other clubs throughout the East Coast. More than 200 dancers from the Lowcountry, Myrtle Beach, and as far as Columbia, Spartanburg and even Jacksonville, Florida, attended the Winter Classic Jan. 20 at the Sonesta Resort on Hilton Head Island. 

The ballroom was filled with smiling faces, dancing feet, great music and amity. The “spotlight” dance showcased Jackie McGee and Charlie Womble, a husband-and-wife dance team who have won the National Shag Dance competition 13 times.

Becky Elliott, one of the club’s dance instructors and past president, said, “In the shag club community, clubs throughout the region each throw one big event. A lot of folks fill up their monthly calendar going from dance to dance in the Southeast.”  

For example, 85-year-old Marlene Frazier has traveled from Jacksonville to the Winter Classic every year since the 1990s. “I started dancing the shag when I was 57 and I go dancing three days a week. I think it’s great fun and important that our clubs support one another.”

Local member Dick Ryan said he was a lifeguard in Myrtle Beach back in the ’60s and loved the beach dances. He would ask a girl to dance, do two or three steps and then whisper that it was too crowded and escort her away. He jokingly called it “the lifeguard shuffle.” 

Ryan has been a member of the Hilton Head Shag Club since its inception in 1994.

Patty DeGraw and her husband, Marvin, hail from Windsor, Canada. Their first trip to Hilton Head was nearly 35 years ago. They discovered a bar and dance club where people were dancing the shag and fell in love with the dance. 

Patty was a clog dancer in Canada and also taught disco back in the ’70s. After that one visit, they traveled in a motor home for 25 years to spend six months a year in Hilton Head to shag dance. They moved here eight years ago and are active members in the Hilton Head Island Shag Club.

The Carolina Shag is the official dance of South Carolina. Its moves and music have evolved over time and survived the evolution of musical culture from the Big Band Era to Rock ’n’ Roll and Hip Hop. However, the history of the Shag is much more than the development of the dance over several decades – it’s a positive story of race relations during segregation. Black and white youth and their love of music pushed back the barriers of segregation to do what they love: dance to great music and live on the edge. The Jitterbug came along in the ’40s, and this fast dance with upbeat music and different rhythms led to the development of the shag.

Bill and Vicky Anderson are active members and serve as dance instructors. Bill explained that club members all have different skill levels, different styles, and different abilities, but all enjoy the club and dancing. He added that the shag club even has a Junior Shag initiative.

Anderson explained that shag dancing, like many other cultural interests, wanes as generations grow older. The Junior Shag initiative is an opportunity to pass the love of shag dancing onto the youth who enjoy dancing with their parents, grandparents, and other family members, strengthening family ties. 

The shag endures because it’s casual, it’s fun, and it allows one’s personal style and favorite moves as you build your repertoire.

The purpose of the Hilton Head Island Shag Club is to spread the love of shag and the joy of beach music to the community. 

John Thomas, outgoing president of the club, encourages anyone looking for some fun to come to a Friday night social dance to discover what the club has to offer. Their social dances and lessons are held at Heinrichs Hall at Christ Lutheran Church on William Hilton Parkway, and yearly membership is only $30. 

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Edwina Hoyle is a freelance writer in Bluffton.