Shaggers honor one of their own
By Rachel Haynie with
Phil Sawyer did not just shag his way to a lifetime achievement award. His vision, advocacy, leadership, and even administrative skills had as much to do with the signal honor as tripping the light fantastic on a hardwood floor to a Jackie Wilson or Ella Fitzgerald tune.
Sawyer, 77, was honored for a lifetime of support and promotion of dance, especially the Carolina shag during a shaggers’ winter workshop.
More than 250 officers of local and regional shag clubs from throughout the southeast, from Washington, DC, to Birmingham, AL, met in Columbia to discuss the business of keeping their clubs fluid.
Later in the weekend, dancers filling two ballrooms perpetuated the smooth moves that in 1984 made the shag SC’s state dance.
Sawyer was president of the Columbia Shag Club during the time the Society of Stranders (SOS) had dipped into danger of extinction. The local shag club was one of the five original founding clubs of the Association of Carolina Shag Clubs (ACSC).
Under Sawyer’s leadership, SOS pivoted into the black and has been on a roll ever since. Membership in SOS is the ticket to take the floor during two seasonal events that for more than two decades have drawn shaggers to the Carolina coast. Today SOS has a membership of approximately 18,000 Carolina Shag lovers worldwide, although most dancers are located primarily in the Southeast.
Spring Safari, considered a baby–boomers’ Spring Break, attracts as many as 15,000 dancers to the North Myrtle Beach area for a long weekend in March. Fall Migration brings in about the same number, turning participating shag halls, decks, or boardwalks into tourist destinations.
Sawyer’s honor carries with it the establishment of the Phil Sawyer Award, an annual cash award intended as a partial scholarship for a dance major in USC’s Department of Theatre and Dance.
The award was established by two gifts to the USC Endowment, a $5,000 gift from ACSC and $20,000 from the SOS Charitable Foundation. Annual income will be used to fund the award. The principle will remain to grow the endowed fund. When the principle reaches $100,000, the award will become a named scholarship in perpetuity.
At the award ceremony, enthusiastic suggestions were made regarding participating shag clubs’ annual supplements to the fund. Bo Bryan, author of the book SHAG, contributed one book for each shag club to be signed by that club’s members then auctioned on e-Bay. Proceeds will go to the fund.
Joining Sawyer, his wife Chick and their family, was special guest SC Rep. John “Bubber” Snow. The Hemmingway lawmaker championed the Shag as SC’s State Dance more than two decades ago. In his remarks Snow reminisced about college days he and Sawyer shared when the two friends were students at USC.
Also in attendance were Christina Myers of the USC Educational Foundation, who answered questions about the award’s funding procedures, and Susan Anderson, artistic director of the USC Dance Company, and part of USC’s Department of Theatre and Dance.
Editor’s Note: Richard Durlach is president of the Board of Dance of the USC Dance Company.