“Are you going to learn how to shag?” Within an hour of arriving in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for a short getaway I had been asked this question by a half dozen people. The shag is the pride and joy of the locals and they want to share it with as many visitors as possible. It wasn’t possible to resist their friendly southern charm so I gave in and asked where I should go. The same answer was always immediate: Fat Harold’s Beach Club.
It was a Tuesday night when I visited the first time. Yes, this means I went back more than once. More than twice if you really must know. But Tuesdays night was the best night for me because that’s when locals and visitors could spend an hour taking a free shag dance lesson.
Fat Harold’s was a one-stop destination for all kinds of entertainment. A long bar slightly elevated with a view of the large wooden dance floor, several tables scattered around the building, and a pool table in the front with a second bar that served typical bar food. Large wooden plaques with names of other shag clubs across the country hung on the walls above the dance floor.
As the lesson began the men stood on one side of the dance floor and the women on the other. I tried, but ultimately failed, not to look out of place with a large camera in one hand and a notepad in the other. I was there to learn, but also to write. Standing in the middle with a microphone headset wrapped around his head was legendary shag dancer and instructor Jeppy McDowell. For over thirty years Jeppy had danced the shag and was now considered the best beginner instructor in town.
The lesson began with no music. All we had was Jeppy’s methodic, rhythmic voice softly blaring from the speakers. “One and two, three and four, five, six,” he would say over and over again as he demonstrated the moves with his feet. He would stand with the men and then switch sides to the women. The instruction was slow, but it was just what everyone needed. Especially me; I wasn’t born with two left feet, but rather when it came to dancing my feet switched legs and all kinds of confusion would ensue.
As the hour-long lesson continued everyone eventually paired up with a dance partner. Jeppy continued to give directions through the speakers as three dozen partners listened intently. “One and two, three and four, slide, slide.” His voice provided the only beat we had to time our movements since no music had played so far. From time to time Jeppy’s voice would become silent and the only sound in the club was from three dozen pairs of shoes thumping on the wooden dance floor.
At the end of the lesson Jeppy paused one last time and looked out across the dance floor. “I need to show you how to hold hands.” A few people giggled, but Jeppy looked dead serious. He walked over to a pair, cut in, and demonstrated how to hold hands with the lady. “Men, now that you know how to hold her hands you can manipulate her and get her to do whatever you want.” Laughter erupted across the dance floor. “Unless you marry her. Then you have to do whatever she wants.” More laughter, although this time it seemed more restrained coming from the men.
The first music of the night finally played. Three dozen dance partners, holding hands properly now, began to shag. They were filled with confidence from the recent instruction. The bright lights used during the lesson faded to a subtle, romantic scheme. The music played, the people danced, and that is how I learned to shag.
If you would like to view more photos from North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, please visit my photography website at photography.southeasterntraveler.com/South-Carolina/North-Myrtle-Beach/