“What time is it?” my friend asked.
“I don’t care,” I replied to her.
We were, after all, on adult spring break. Did it matter?
So before the sun set on the famous—revered, by shaggers—Ocean Drive Pavilion, we continued to prowl for dance partners and savor the best beach music anywhere in the world. The nearly 400-mile drive from Jacksonville to North Myrtle Beach last week was well worth this.
Squeezing through the crowd we ran into some North Carolina dancers we had met several years ago. “We have bad days ahead. This isn’t one of them. Let’s shag,” said one man, leading me onto the dance floor.
Year after year, more faces become familiar. Couples. Singles. Everyone is there to dance and socialize and, most of all, preserve the incredible Carolina Shag and its intoxicating R&B beach music.
Shagging at the OD Pavilion, SOS Spring Safari, April 2013:
Since 2002 I have been going to SOS, a twice-a-year, 10-day gathering of up to 15,000 shaggers from throughout the South and beyond, most of us now in our 60s and 70s … and beyond.
The Society of Stranders (thus, SOS) started this beloved ritual nearly 35 years ago. Oldtimers who had been shagging along South Carolina’s Grand Strand decades before the first SOS return to renew friendships and wow onlookers with their still skillful shag steps.
Truthfully, I don’t feel worthy to expound upon the old days at the beach when dancers with sand in their shoes gave birth to the Carolina Shag. Or early SOS, for that matter. Regrettably, I wasn’t there. As a relative newcomer I do my best to execute a smooth shag step, support my local shag club and learn about shag history. I remain in awe of those who started it all and will forever reign as veteran shaggers.
I am more at ease writing about how my gang of girlfriends in our 60s and 70s escape our routines, ignore our responsibilities and indulge in the delicious delirium of SOS. Not that we are stick-in-the-muds back home … but there is something almost surreal about SOS.
At my first SOS, a DJ from Jacksonville told me he never saw me smile so big.
The ritual, the music, the dance
“Are we going to go out to dinner every night?” asked a friend who came with us for the first time this year.
Uh, no … takes too much time away from dancing.
Eating is secondary, she soon discovered. First on the agenda upon arrival was a quick trip to Kroger’s, where we stocked up mostly on vegetables, fruit, nuts, peanut butter, cheese and crackers so we could eat fast, and relatively healthy, in our condo rental within walking distance of the dance clubs. Our objective: getting back out there.
And wine—necessary for those late night/early morning just-back-from-the-clubs gab sessions where we rehashed every minute of that day: who we saw, who we met, who could dance, who said what … and, will we see him again, or is it an SOS fling?
Of course, we checked in with our families and turned on the TV news while getting ready to go back out, but for the most part we were carefree in SOS heaven. Honestly, except for the ice packs on my feet that were sore from dancing, I didn’t feel much different partying and bonding with these “girlz” than I did in our hotel room on our senior high school trip to Washington, D.C., in 1965. SOS is that liberating.
The music. It’s everywhere. From the DJ at the pool of our beachside condo to clubs up and down Ocean Drive, beach music blared almost ‘round the clock. Days after returning to Florida, I could still hear songs in my head. Coincidentally, a Today show segment this week featured ear worms, those nagging tunes. Such as:
“ … Clarence Carter’s still strokin’ … and Ms. Jody is in the house … ”
“I love beach music. I always have and I always will … ”
Hear it yourself: http://www.youtube.com/embed/oQHvuoQSwas
“Give me something smooth, something kind of mellow, by Nat King Cole and Marvin Gaye … ”
“… and you can walk those high heels baby right out of my life …”
The dancers. Amazing. It was heartening to watch the young dancers entrusted to keep the shag alive and satisfying to know that the majority of the people who packed the dance floors were seniors who are keeping themselves young through the shag.
“What a great opportunity to relive our youth,” sighed a friend on the ride home, as we listened to beach music on radio channel 94.9 The Surf until it faded away like one more glorious SOS.
Phil Sawyer and Tom Poland said it best in their book Save the Last Dance for Me: A Love Story of the Shag and the Society of Stranders: “Shaggers feel they will never grow old because beach music is in their soul.”
All about SOS: http://shagdance.com/