This is How to Shag—and Why You Should Learn

Can you dance like this?

Many years ago, the Shag was born on the beaches of South Carolina. Quick and smooth, the dance rose in popularity among young people in the 1940s as they stepped and twirled to "beach music." Before long, well-known fast dancers such as Billy Jeffers and 'Chicken' Hicks emerged as leading influencers of the easygoing community birthed from the dance that rocked the beaches and, later, the nation. It solidified its name throughout the 1940s and 1950s and has ebbed and flowed in and out of popularity since. And, as if it couldn't sound any more Southern, the Carolina Shag has lived on to being described as a "cold beer on a warm night with a hot date and no plans for tomorrow."

How to Shag

Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

For beginners, the rhythm might sound familiar. The basic steps for the Shag follow the "one-and-two, three-and-four, five-six" pattern. To put it very simply, it's a lot of stepping forward and backward in those counts, switching your weight between your right and left side throughout. Another key idea for learning the Shag is that it should generally feel and look as if the partners are mirroring each other's movements, completely in sync. The man leads with his left foot, the woman follows suit with her right foot, and so on. In the basic form, each partner is doing the same step, but with the opposite foot. Once you get more experienced, you're able to have more fun with it and try faster, more complicated steps. Watching tutorials is easily the best way to get familiar with the basic steps.

At the height of its popularity, the Shag wasn't known particularly as a classy, traditional dance; but its recent revival has an air of tradition, while not succumbing to seeming stuffy. It's a quick, fun, and very social dance, which is what makes it the perfect dance to know for a party. In the South, social graces and traditions will always be important, You don't want to be the one at the party that can't do the dance– or, as Southerners say, the one up the creek without a paddle. And not knowing the proper way to eat, dance, and converse at every type of Southern social event can lead you up that so-called creek.

The Shag is often linked to the term "swing dancing," though they are not to be lumped into the same broad category—rather the Shag, specifically the Carolina Shag, has been called the "swing dance of the South." Now, we Southerners are bringing it back in style. It's the dance of choice at sorority formals, with bands playing loud and quick. And it's a surefire win at Southern weddings and parties, getting everyone on their feet and off their behinds (no one wants to throw a dull party down here). The last thing we want is for anyone to be left out, so we're letting you in on the hint—do yourself a favor and practice a little "one-and-two" later.

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