Today: In The '00s and beyond...
Retired Faculty, Ithaca College & Cornell University, Ithaca NY
The shag basic is one of the most comfortable partnering basic steps in swing dance. The connection is relaxed, but steady: no subtle leverage and compression as in West Coast Swing. Compared to the East Coast Swing basic, it doesn't bounce: it glides. A lot of repetition doesn't tire out the beginner, as it does for those who regard the "Swing-Out" as Lindy Hop's basic. The shag basic is smooth, and really feels great with the right music. (No judgements here, just trying to describe... we do 'em all, we love 'em all.)
The dance has a variety of styles, depending on who is dancing, or on who describes it to you! For some, the dance is playful, with a lot of partner interaction, and both partners taking opportunities to "shine". For others, it is "mirror moves" galore. For yet others, the leader "peacocks" a variety of complex improvisations, while the follower performs subtle (or no) footwork variations. It depends on the skill level and mentality of each partner, as well as on regionality and decade. At the forefront of mutual partnering in shag are national shag champions many times over, Jackie McGee and Charlie Womble.
Mirror Moves: Often mentioned when attempting to describe Shag, complex moves involving both partners doing the same thing as if in a mirror are definitely an aspect of the dance. Advanced couples often develop their own personal repertoire of mirrored sequences using crosses, hooks, kicks, brushes, turns, spins, etc. These sequences are essentially unleadable, except by verbal call. It is fun to make these up and execute them. They are personal moments of a private language to rejoice in. However, there are also plenty of lead-follow moves. The shag basic itself seems to invite the creation of mirror moves, since it is itself a mirror step.
On Myrtle Beach, the Shag Contest phenomenon may be partially responsible for the high degree of development of complex couples' moves. But, there is also a large percentage of shaggers who are totally uninterested in competition!
Most shaggers today keep the action strictly in the footwork. But a few leaderes use the free arm, head, and shoulders in boisterious rhythmic improvisation. There can also be dramatic leader spins and drops. The footwork stays close to the ground. No high kicks. Also, no aerials or lifts. The partnering is warm, playful and affectionate, but not pseudo-seductive viz-a-viz a trend in '90s West Coast Swing. (Paradoxically, the Shag "Belly Roll" is the one really hot (as in "sex") move that '90s West Coast Swingers might seem to want to do, but don't!)
Will Carolina Shag ever become popular up north? It is my observation that the dance is heavily tied into Southern identity, Southern sociability, and Myrtle Beach mystique. The attempt to regard Carolina Shag as just another cool swing dance is to miss this essential context.
Dancers: "Spider" Kirkman and ???, Myrtle Beach, early
1950s (source: op. cit.)
For the Shag-hungry:
Let's go South!
Actually, there is more to the story: some interesting twists
of popular belief.
I hope to have this "more" on the site by the fall 2010.
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