2017-09-08 / Front Page

We remember the music, The Big Apple, the beach, and shagging

By Anita Baker


Charlie Womble and Jackie McGee are nine-time National Shag Champions, U.S. Open Swing Champions, Shad Alberty Award recipients, Three-Time Feather Award winners for Best Male and Female Swing Dancers, Best Classic Swing winning couple, New Wave Award winners, and are in the Shaggers Hall of Fame. They are founders of the Grand National Dance Championship. Check the couple out on Youtube. 
Photo and cutline courtesy of Phil Sawyer Charlie Womble and Jackie McGee are nine-time National Shag Champions, U.S. Open Swing Champions, Shad Alberty Award recipients, Three-Time Feather Award winners for Best Male and Female Swing Dancers, Best Classic Swing winning couple, New Wave Award winners, and are in the Shaggers Hall of Fame. They are founders of the Grand National Dance Championship. Check the couple out on Youtube. Photo and cutline courtesy of Phil Sawyer The Carolina Shag originated in a time of racial segregation, post- World War II euphoria, jukeboxes, the classic cars, and summer vacations on the coast. The Carolina Shag is considered to have originated in Columbia at the Big Apple Night Club. The Big Apple Night Club was formerly the House of Peace Synagogue.

In 1936, the House of Peace Synagogue congregation outgrew the building and agreed to sell it to H.S. Portes for $900. Portes remodeled the synagogue and rented it to Fred “Fat” Sams and piano player “Big” Elliot Wright who founded the Big Apple Night Club. It was the days of Jim Crow where there were dance clubs for “Colored” and there were dance clubs for “Whites Only.”

Segregation touched many aspects of everyone’s life, even popular dance.

However, there were a few USC students, Bill Spivey, Donald Davis, and Harold “Goo-Goo” Wiles, who heard the music and fun coming from the Big Apple Night Club in downtown Columbia and found a way to get inside.

The students were only allowed to sit in the balcony, but they were able to observe some exciting, fast dancing steps and moves that fascinated them. That summer of 1937, as soon as school was out, the students headed for the pavilion at Myrtle Beach to try out the Big Apple dance or “polish the apple.” This is the origin of the Carolina Shag. A reason for whites and blacks to “cross over the Jim Crow rope”—all in the name of fun and music and dance.

Young high school and college students flocked to the beach every summer to join the movement and learn how to dance the Carolina Shag. The Carolina Shag was developed at the same time as the Jitterbug, the Lindy Hop, and the Charleston. However, its long standing popularity has much to say about the dance, the music, and the beach.

Pavilion dance floors and clubs stand out in the memories of those who spent countless summer nights in their youth dancing to the jukebox music and perfecting the steps of the Carolina Shag. Venues such as The Pad, Fat Harold’s, Spivey’s, Duck’s, Crazy Zack’s, and Sonny’s Pavilion have hosted Carolina Shag dancers over the decades.

Save the Last Dance for Me: A Love Story of the Shag and the Society of Stranders was published by The University of South Carolina Press in 2012 and was co-authored by Dr. Phil Sawyer and Tom Poland.

Dr. Sawyer was the unofficial historian of the Carolina Shag and the Society of Stranders (S.O.S.), which was founded in 1980 to revive the dance and bring people back to the Carolina beaches to enjoy the dance from their youth.

Because of declining health, Dr. Sawyer needed a co-author to assist in compiling all the facts and memories he had collected over the years, and Tom Poland was chosen by the University of South Carolina Press for the project.

Dr. Sawyer faced a difficult diagnosis and decline in health, and Poland said publishing Save the Last Dance for Me became a project “in tribute to Dr. Sawyer.” He says they were able to finish Save the Last Dance for Me before Dr. Sawyer’s death.

“ The Prologue” to Save The Last Dance for Me includes the following, “The shag was the dance along the Grand Strand in the late 1940s and early 1950s—a memorable time of classic cars, ice cream sodas, rhythm and blues, cold beer, and nights afire with love. Many would look back on this golden era as the apex of youth and romance… It was a glamorous and chivalrous time. As evening fell, the lights of open-air pavilions beckoned. As gleaming lines of surf broke outside pavilions and clubs, couples danced. Neon Wurlitzers and Rock-Olas gobbled change. Shaggers dances along the leading edge of a pop-culture revolution...”

Next week’s edition of The Columbia Star will feature the history and development of the Society of Stranders, the S.O.S. which now has a membership of over 14,000 fans of The Carolina Shag.

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