SOS: Pilgrimage to the past

the shag image

“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:

SOS 4.2013 shaggers OD Pav web site2

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.

That’s SOS.

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:

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.”

SOS 4.2013 water tower2 by Vickie GH
So long, SOS: North Myrtle Beach’s iconic water tower is a sad rearview mirror sight.

All about SOS:


About Lorrie DeFrank

Retired and relishing the time to write about anything concerning people 65 and older, which is everything.
This entry was posted in 65 plus and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to SOS: Pilgrimage to the past

  1. Loretta says:

    Well done – I don’t think I could keep up with that pace!!!

    • It’s another world, Loretta! I never dreamed I would be living this lifestyle at this age. A huge thing about SOS and the shag culture is the camaraderie. Everyone is so friendly. Where else would you find such a peaceful mob?!

  2. Susan Geisler says:

    So true! I was only at SOS once, but loved it!

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Jim says:

    Well my friend, I missed you this Spring…..but who knows….maybe we will see each other in the Fall. I enjoyed your Blog. Keep writing….Jim Money

    • Allen Henry says:

      Lorrie, It is sad to leave SOS but we all have to come back to reality and get back into the real world, but it is nice to see everybody from past years and get caught on all the news.
      There is nothing like it.

    • Hope so, Jim. Save me a dance. Thanks for reading my blog. I enjoy your columns in the SOS Carefree Times, too.

  4. Mary Schulz says:

    loved this post, too, even googled beach music to see what the hype is all about, but lorrie, don’t recognize it at all, tho it is a great beat and i wanted to rock n roll!!!


    • I doubt if you hear much beach music in Wisconsin, Mary. It’s a fabulous rhythm and blues sound. People who don’t know what it is think of the Beach Boys and Drifters. It’s not that music, although you can shag to a lot of it, such as “Under the Boardwalk.”

  5. Joan says:

    Delicious delirium. I love it. That’s SOS.

  6. Susan says:

    Lorrie, you are a lucky lady……I still have my CD of beach music that you made for me. Every so often I dance in my kitchen thinking I should be doing this every weekend just like years ago. Being “stuck” in PA, I’ve never been to SOS but the stories you’ve told gives me hope for the future!!! BTW, everything is now GREEN in PA so come home soon!!!

    • You are hilarious, Susan! I know, we never heard true beach music or saw the shag in PA growing up. I’m so grateful to have discovered it on vacations to Myrtle Beach in the ’90s and pursued it after I moved down South. See you there in June! Love PA in June!

  7. LaVerne says:

    Love your blog! You certainly have a way with words! Keep up the good work, see you on the dance floor!

  8. Thank you, LaVerne. I’ll never come close to being as smooth and fabulous as you are on the dance floor. And I’ll always be grateful to you and Bill for teaching me the pivot when I was a brand new shagger!

  9. Annmarie says:

    Really enjoyed your blog! Since this was the first time for my husband and I being at SOS, we never knew what we were missing! And we met in Myrtle Beach just about 45 years ago. I learned a little shag then. Have always loved it! We will go back and hope to see you and your “girlz” again. Sure enjoyed meeting you and Mary Lou and spending some fun time with Donna and Diane. And whatever you do, kep shagging!

    • Annmarie, it was wonderful to meet you and Bobby at SOS. Welcome back to the shag world! How special that Donna was there when you were! I’m looking forward to seeing you again at SOS. September, maybe?

  10. Rock Garick says:

    Hi Lorrie, I enjoy your way with your words describing your experiences at SOS at OD…makes me sad I missed Spring Fling…maybe I’ll show up for Fall Migration…
    Keep up the talented expression of your thoughts…sorry u never experienced The Pad…
    An old South Carolina Beach Bum…

  11. Thanks, Rock. Fun being your dance partner when more than 700 of us broke the Guinness World Record for the largest shag dance two years ago at SOS. Funny thing about The Pad … I had Becky Stowe’s print of it hanging in my home in PA long before I moved here. Must have known I would be a shagger someday. It’s in my living room in Florida now.

  12. murpheyshaw says:

    I have determined that the travel log is one of the most, if not the most, difficult of all writing, except maybe resumes. I don’t know why, but it’s HARD. Having said that, you seem to have mastered it.

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