Age 65 checklist:
• Apply for Medicare.
• Collect Social Security.
• Put on my dance shoes and get out there on the floor.
For the past dozen years, most of my social life has revolved around the Carolina Shag.
A 50-something friend once told me he didn’t want to go to shag dances. “Too many old people,” he said. All right, I admit, you see a lot of gray heads there. (Mostly guys, incidentally. Funny how they turn gray and we women don’t!) I’ll concede that a majority of the dancers are older than 60. But look at them—out there living it up … and getting down!
Then there’s my 72-year-old friend who looks like she’s 52. She pointed to her temple when explaining why she dances: “It activates your brain, keeps it young. You have to learn steps and remember them. Not to mention the physical benefits.”
Scientific studies back her up, such as the study of amateur dancers published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience in July 2010. Titled “Superior Sensory, Motor and Cognitive Performance in Elderly Individuals with Multi-Year Dancing Activities,” it concluded that dance, in addition to physical activity, combines emotions, social interaction, sensory stimulation, motor coordination and music, thereby creating enriched environmental conditions for human individuals. Maintaining a regular schedule of dancing into old age can preserve cognitive, motor and perceptual abilities and prevent them from degradation.
Another friend pointed out that the complexity of the Carolina Shag footwork makes it more beneficial than many other dances. A graceful form of swing, the shag is danced to beach music with a partner in a slot, like dancing on a diving board. One can’t fake its “up-together-back, back-in-place, rock step” basic. You have to learn it. Once you do, you can shag with anyone and add an infinite number of variations.
Shag looks like this:
Besides the benefits, shag is fun and worth preserving
The official dance of North and South Carolina, the shag goes back at least seven decades, when dancers shuffled their feet on sandy floors in beachside pavilions to black rhythm and blues jukebox music they couldn’t hear on the radio. Many oldtimers are still spinning and boogie walking well into their 70s and 80s.
The Carolina Shag remains most popular throughout the South, where members of the Junior Shag Association and other young dancers are helping to keep it alive for future generations.
Information about the Carolina Shag is available at www.shagdance.com, the official Web site of the Society of Stranders. For an enormously entertaining and educational history, read “Save the Last Dance for Me: A Love Story of the Shag and the Society of Stranders” by Phil Sawyer and Tom Poland, published last year by the University of South Carolina Press.
It’s the CAROLINA Shag
To digress, I’ve learned to specify “Carolina Shag” when I talk about this beloved dance. Early on, my adult sons occasionally snickered when I talked about how much I was getting into shagging. Finally, one of them told me what shag means in the UK. Horrified, I shared with him that I was taking lessons with a co-worker and that our department head would ask me to give a shag report at staff meetings. I would say things like, “Last night we did the belly roll and next week we’re doing the cuddle pivot.” Then I knew why my reports were so amusing. Obviously my boss and dance buddy knew what they were doing. We still laugh about that.
Shag culture, a way of life
Ask shaggers what they like best about Carolina Shag and it’s a good bet you’ll hear “camaraderie.” Shag is a way of life where friendships form fast, hugs are plentiful and etiquette dictates that anyone may ask anyone to dance.
Jacksonville’s First Coast Shag Club members offered the following reasons for shagging in their senior years:
• Great exercise and it keeps you young.
• It’s an accomplishment; it’s not easy to learn how to shag.
• Good brain exercise and excellent muscle memory.
• Keeps us young at heart. We’re only old in our minds.
• Socializing with friends.
• Going to SOS to meet 1,000 of our closest friends.
Ah, SOS …
Known simply by the acronym for Society of Stranders, the corporation that started it nearly 35 years ago, SOS is when thousands of shaggers converge on North Myrtle Beach, SC, three times a year. Many haven’t missed one SOS, dancing day and night at the Ocean Drive Pavilion and at clubs with names such as Fat Harold’s, Ducks, Pirate’s Cove, OD Arcade and Spanish Galleon—embracing the shag culture and defying age with every pivot, turn and sugar foot. SOS is often called spring break for adults. What a fun way to stay young!
Shagging at the OD Pavilion at SOS in 2010:
DJs play beach music at shag dances: