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The Wax Museum
For John Hook, 56, it was love at first
sight when he first encountered the Shag in 1975. Already a musicologist
and noted Oldies and Rock and Roll specialist, the Shag opened a door to
the new and fascinating world of Beach Music to him.
As an editor and writer of the first Beach Music history magazines, Hook
has been ferreting out the little-known evolution and reminiscences of
Shag and Beach history since 1979.
History wasn’t enough, however. Hook wanted to Shag as well as learn its
When not doing musical or historical research, Hook finds time to run a
radio and broadcast syndication network, research and present scientific
papers on adult learning, organizational and societal growth, and start
a clinic for pain-relief through strategies as a Postural Adjustment
He hopes that this work will bring back fond memories and inspire the
telling of more colorful stories. Hook regards the book as a present to
Shagger’s Hall of Fame Foundation, many of whose members have become his
lifetime friends and associates.
in the Carolinas
'Fessa John Hook
A History Full of Pictures
Shagging in the Carolinas is a history of dance,
romance, and the New South. The Shag defied social conventions as
carefree white teenagers were inspired by the possibilities inherent in
improvisational black dance and music. This is the story of how Southern
society’s emerging middle class embraced its multicultural roots while
its political leaders continued to debate and deny the outcome of the
Civil War. These are the unique people and circumstances that nurtured
the evolution of Shag and Beach Music at places like the “jump joints”
of Carolina Beach, the inland lake retreats, and the pavilions of Ocean
Drive, Atlantic, Folly, Wrightsville, and Tybee beaches. With lively
music and dancers, the Shag was popular at famous dance clubs, teen
canteens, and armories. Venues such as the Coachman and IV, the Cellar,
the Bushes, the Embers Clubs, and the Beach Club at Myrtle Beach are
captured within these pages. The early pioneers and iconoclasts of
dancing brought about a cultural revolution, embodied today by the many
societies, competitions, and innumerable entertainers and bands that
continue the Beach Music tradition.
Sample of Shagging in the Carolinas
Introduction (page 7-8)
This has been a work of love, admiration, adoration, and passion. It is
both a history of the Shag and a journey through the Carolinas in search
of individual and social experiences called Shagging.
Shag history reads like love letters written in the sand. It is public,
social, and yet intensely personal. Like those briny love letters, the
Shag expresses heady emotions that should be taken with a grain of salt.
Some relationships seem to have “forever” written all over them. By the
following season, though, the words have washed away; names have been
forgotten. The Shag is a dance of friends and romances found and lost.
Sometimes it’s the beginning of a lifetime together.
Shag is also a game of romance, seduction, collaboration, and
improvisation. It is a game of play. This may seem a frivolous
distinction in today’s world—which is exactly the point. Play was always
seen as frivolous activity in the United States and other puritanical
societies until about 120 years ago, when a few enlightened minds began
to connect ideas of play with recreation and reintegration. In fact,
they began to consider play as an essential component in the good life
of anyone who would maintain their sanity.
Dancing has long been diagnosed as a symptom of the dreaded disease of
frivolity. Note, however, that those who condemn dancing are often, if
not always, unable to duplicate it in a socially acceptable form.
Ofttimes they will excuse themselves simply by saying, “I’ve just never
been able to do it.” The fundamental equipment is shared by all of us:
two feet, two legs, a torso, preferably a pair of arms, a decent blood
flow, and painless joints. That covers most of the basic tools. So what
do the denigrators of dance mean when they say they can’t do it?
It has nothing to do with equipment and everything to do with attitude
and mood. The secret of mood is that it is far more than just a feeling.
It is also a predisposition that allows for some actions and forbids
others. The mood of anxiety, for example, and the fear of negative
social opinions and the resulting loss of status, is an infamous killer
of dancing. Anxiety, when connected with dancing, is almost always a
fear of doing it wrong. This anxiety often arises from the belief that
human beings should do only what they are good at and nothing else.
In a carefree mood, dancing thrives, and so do invention and
improvisation. When one is unafraid of social condemnation, one is free
to make mistakes—thus to invent. Invention always includes mistakes and
failures. To be carefree is to be open to learning and to have
Dancing, as a function of self-expression, reveals something of the
soul. This is one reason Shagging is sometimes called soul dancing. We
don’t ordinarily attempt to reveal our souls. We try to control our
conversations and interactions for specific social outcomes with little
or no room for spontaneity.
Shagging also requires, at the very least, a minimum of mutual respect.
If the dancers have known one another for awhile there may also be
So what do we have so far as the rules of the Shag game? They are
carefree-ness—the capacity to fearlessly coordinate action with another;
inventiveness—a natural human trait when we allow our impulses;
learning—in a fun mood, it is fast, easy, and powerful; freedom—fearless
self-expression; intimacy—vulnerability arising from self-expression;
and friendship—mutual admiration and respect produces friendship.
Shagging happens when two people hold one or both hands, move together
out of a basic step accompanied by some ensemble improvisation and back
to the basic in time with the music. The addition of complex steps,
especially unplanned steps, can make the whole experience more playfully
challenging if the intent is to stay connected with the tempo and beat
of the song as well as one’s partner.
In the early years, all this took place to some very racy music, which
added an additional, delicious danger. For one thing, it was forbidden
black music. For another, the music was sinful. It was about sex. By
1947 and 1948, sex was everywhere: “I Want A Bowlegged Woman” by
Bullmoose Jackson, “Good Rockin’ Tonight” by Wynonie Harris, “Fine Brown
Frame” by Nellie Lutcher, “Big Legs” by Gene Phillips, and “King Size
Papa” by Julia Lee were among the many songs that celebrated sexuality
and drinking and set the boundaries of the playground that fostered
Shagging and Shaggers. Not that all Shaggers were drinkers—most
weren’t—but they were unafraid to enter the darkness of taboos beyond
the firelight at the edge of society.
Taken together, all these components generated a sense of mutual
risk-taking—dancing on the edge.