Let’s get the disappointment out of the way first. We won’t be discussing the type of shagging Austin Powers loves to talk about. Now, some of you could use some step-by-step advice on that topic, but this isn’t Cosmo. Instead, we’ll show you how to do our state dance, the shag. We may not be able to turn you into a sex god, but you know what they say: If you’re good on the dance floor, then you’re good in the sack.
To get tips on how to shag, we turned to David and Nancy Townsend. The pair first met in Charleston in the early ’80s through their common love of the dance. A year ago, they started the East Cooper Shag Club, which has grown to about 300 members.
“We formed the club to preserve the dance and to introduce it to new people,” David says. “We would love for younger people to come in and learn the dance. That’s really what we’re all about.”
The club is always looking for newcomers, even rookies, but to really learn the shag, David says you might need to invest in some lessons. The footwork gets pretty complicated.
“The most important thing you need to keep in mind is the upbeat and downbeat of the music,” he says. “You have to begin on the upbeat and stay on it the entire time or you’re going to get lost.”
First, pick out some music you can easily follow. The shag is most commonly accompanied with beach music, which shouldn’t be confused with reggae or surf rock. Anything by the Tams, the Drifters, or the Embers will do, but as a veteran shagger, David suggests something more original.
“I’m so tired of that ‘I Love Beach Music’ stuff. I never want to hear it again,” he says. “The best kind of shagging music has a blend of blues, R&B, and big band music. Sometimes it’ll have a little bit of country and a little bit of pop. It’s a really interesting blend.”
Once you have a song picked out, listen to it and say this along with the beat of the music: “one-and-two, three-and-four, fiiive-six.” If you have that down, you essentially have the rhythm of the entire dance. Every move you make will follow that same pattern.
The basic steps of the shag pretty much involve stepping forward and back. The steps are the exact same for each partner, except they use opposite feet. We’ll teach you how to shag from the lead partner’s point of view; if you want to know how it works for the other partner, just replicate these moves by using the opposite feet.
Before beginning, the lead should hold the other dancer’s right hand with his or her left. The duo should start face-to-face with both feet together and remember the rhythm as they try these steps:
1. Step forward with your left foot, then step forward with your right foot.
2. Step back with your left foot.
3. Move your right foot back behind your left foot and lift up your left foot and put it down. (You can also shift your weight to your left foot.)
4. Lift up your right foot and put it back down. (You can also shift your weight to your right foot.)
5. Move your left foot behind your right, and when you step down, lean back with it for “fiiive,” slightly lifting your right foot up.
6. Put your right foot back down and say “six.”
Since your right foot is already behind you, it won’t be hard to repeat the steps. Just bring your left foot back in front of your left and repeat from the top. It should come pretty naturally after a few tries.
Now that you have the steps portion down, David says you have to learn the style portion of the dance, which is equally important.
“Posture, poise, and position are all very important,” David says. “Don’t look down at the floor, keep your eyes on your partner, and keep your arms fairly steady. These will all make everything look better, even if you’re just doing the basic steps.”
Once you get the hang of the rhythm, the steps, and the style, you can move on to the next phase of the dance — the twists and turns. To see how that’s done, you can meet up with David and Nancy Townsend of the East Cooper Shag Club at Zeus in Mt. Pleasant on the first and third Fridays of every month. Visit eastcoopershagclub.com to learn more.
A quick poll of the editorial staff at the City Paper revealed a terrible, terrible truth: None of us know how to shag. Of course, now that our How To-themed Year-End Double Issue is on stands, we have absolutely no excuse not to know how to dance to “I Love Beach Music.” And there’s no possible way we could ever say that we don’t know how to make shrimp purloo, tie a bowtie, or craft a palmetto rose. Once you’ve finished with this issue, there will be no excuse for you either.
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