'Shagging' a big part of North Myrtle Beach's history

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Most people who grew up in North Myrtle Beach would agree that dancing the "shag" is doing the local dance, but many of them can't agree on where or how the dance got started. Either way, the area played a big role in shag history.

"I think we started shagging because we had three children we wanted to get away from!" says Barry Thigpen. If anyone in the area knows the shag, it's him. He's been dancing for decades with his wife, Pat. At first, they had some differences to work out.

"She did the North Carolina version – the wrong version - I did the South Carolina version, the correct version!" he says.

Thigpen says he learned the moves growing up in Dillon, and danced mostly when he would come to the beach in high school.

"I don't think anybody really knows where it started, we want to think it started at the beach, whether it be North Myrtle or Myrtle," he says.

His friend, Bob Joyner, grew up dancing the shag in Myrtle Beach.

"You either danced or you were not going to be popular around myrtle beach!" Joyner says.

He remembers walking the beach and seeing the crowds gather around the pavilion, watching dancers perform moves like the "belly roll" and "pivots."

"Back then, that was sort of what you didn't do in public," Joyner recalls. "It was not becoming, and the police would unplug the jukebox and disperse the crowd because they thought it was dirty dancing."

"The dance is set to the beat in rhythm and blues music. Joyner says in those days, you had to find a jukebox for R&B, because most radio stations weren't playing that type of music.

He remembers the Myrtle Beach pavilion closing early, so a lot of people went up to North Myrtle Beach, to hot spots like OD Pavilion, The Pad and Sonny's Pavilion, where the music lasted well into the night.

"Living here, we had a curfew, I had to be home, I couldn't stay out all night," Joyner remembers. "But the kids who came here in summer and worked and lived down here, they probably were more of the dancers than the local kids."

Both Joyner and Thigpen agree it was the lifeguards who were probably responsible for shagging's popularity in the 1950's.

Today, many of those early clubs have been torn down, but there's still a significant following for those who wish to continue shagging at the beach, including the Society of Stranders, who meet at least twice a year in North Myrtle Beach. There are also the National Shag Dance Championships, held every year here at the beach.

It might be hard to pin down whether the shag dance started in Myrtle Beach or North Myrtle, but in 1984, the shag was designated as the official South Carolina State Dance, so the history will remain rooted at the beach for years.