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Dancing, Shagging on the Boulevard

I talk a lot about the mountains, but, honestly, I’ve spent more of my life in Wilmington. I was born in Wilmington, and though I lived in Canton during my early years, I moved back to the coast before I was out of elementary school. When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I visited my mama in Wilmington during the summer. Those summers were spent playing in the sands of Carolina Beach, the place that coined the term “beach music;” and one of the homes of the Carolina shag.

People shagged anywhere beach music was played – July 4th celebrations, Jubilee Park, at the Azalea Festival, at River Fest, and spilling out of little beach bars onto the boardwalk. Not much has changed since the 80s; couples still shag in little neighborhood bars all around the Port City.

I never learned how to shag. It feels downright blasphemous to admit such a thing out loud. How did I miss out on something so ingrained in North Carolina’s culture? Thankfully, there’s always room for personal growth, and there are shag classes in every eastern North Carolina town. That’s why I begged nagged convinced Brandon to sign us up for lessons at Roland’s Dance Studio. Hopefully, we’ll know what we’re doing before the Carolina Beach Music Festival rolls around.

Until Brandon signed us up for lessons, I assumed people shagged up and down the eastern seaboard. That all changed when my native Pennsylvanian bestie, Annemarie, asked: “what is shagging? What is shagging?! My sister-in-law (a Georgia peach) made things worse when she asked if shagging was a “Carolina thing.” You mean shagging isn’t popular all across the coast? I’m not going to lie; it made me a little sad. Yes, Brina, shagging is a “Carolina thing.” 😉 It’s even named after the Carolinas. 

The History of the Carolina Shag

According to historians, the shag is a child of swing. It’s a direct descendant of the Big Apple, a swing dance developed in 1936 at the Big Apple nightclub in Columbia, South Carolina. The Big Apple took over beach clubs and pavilions along the Carolina coastline. Over the following years, personal interpretations, geography, and music styles led to diverse variations and new names for swing.

One of those new variations was “Fast Dancing,” and it originated somewhere between Wilmington and Myrtle Beach after R&B rose in popularity over Big Bands. Fast Dancers were called “Jitterbugs” or “Beach Cats.” Today, the Fast Dance is known as the Carolina shag. Emphasizing grace and smoothness, the shag is danced from the waist down with tight footwork and the appearance of rubber knees.

Though Myrtle Beach claims creation of the shag, the Crystal Coast of North Carolina has just as much right to that claim as our Southern cousins. North Carolina has more beach music clubs than anywhere else in the nation – and the shag is one of our official state dances. Some even argue the Old North State has a more solid claim to the shag’s creation. According to Lewis Philip Hall, the Carolina shag was born in the Lumina Pavillion of Wrightsville Beach in 1928.

I throw in with those who side with Lewis Philip Hall. #teamnc I know, I know, I’m biased. I’m okay with that, though.

**Information in the Dancing, Shagging on the Boulevard post comes from several websites including, NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, the Coastal Shag Club, and NCPedia.

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