Carolina Shag can trace its origins to the southern United States during the Big Band Era of the 1930s and 40s. One of the earliest documented references to a dance called "Carolina Shag" appears in a Helen Powell Poole article in 1936. Whether this article refers to an early version of the contemporary dance by the same name is still a matter of debate, as some historians claim that Carolina Shag is a descendant of Carolina Jitterbug, and its predecessor, Little Apple (whose origins can supposedly be traced to Columbia, South Carolina, in 1937). These historians claim that a slower six-count variation of Carolina Jitterbug (which is eight-count) was what gave rise to contemporary Carolina Shag. Soldiers from the North are said to have influenced its six-count rhythm.
"Shag" itself (when used in reference to American vernacular dances) is a very broad term that denotes a number of swing dances that originated during the early part of the 20th century. Arthur Murray mentioned one form of Shag in his 1937 book "Let's Dance". This article states that Shag was known throughout the entire country under various names, like "Flea Hop". And, a New York writer sent to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in late 1940/early 1941 noted an "Oklahoma version of shag" done to the Western Swing music of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys at the Cain's Dancing Academy in Tulsa."
Some dance historians say there is evidence to suggest that the term "shagger" was used to refer to vaudeville performers in the late 19th century , who were known to have danced the Flea Hop. Later "shag" became a blanket term that signified a broad range of jitterbugging (swing dancing). In the 1930s there were arguably a hundred or more variations of the dance, which differ in various respect depending upon the geographic region in which they were done. Thus, Carolina Shag often bears only the faintest resemblance to other dances that share the shag designation. Contemporary St. Louis shag, for instance, (an eight-count dance) does not look much like contemporary Carolina Shag, though both originated in the Swing era of the 1930s and 40s. Though St. Louis Shag is still often danced to swing music, Carolina shag is more closely associated with a variant of rhythm and blues known as "beach music". And, for this reason, many dancers no longer consider Carolina Shag to be a true swing dance.
The term "Carolina Shag" is thought to have originated along the strands between Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina, during the 1940s. According to Bo Bryan, a noted Carolina Shag historian and resident of Beaufort County, the term was coined at Carolina Beach, North Carolina. Today, the Shag is a recognized dance in national and international dance competitions held across the United States.
The 1989 film Shag starring Bridget Fonda, Phoebe Cates, Annabeth Gish, and Page Hannah as four high school friends on their last road trip together before graduation, was filmed in Myrtle Beach and features the Carolina Shag. In 1997, the country music band Alabama recorded the single called "Dancin', Shaggin' on the Boulevard" referencing this style of dance.
- Website with movies featuring the Carolina Shag
- South Carolina Symbols, Dance: Carolina Shag
- Carolina Shag Videos
- This is one theory presented by dance historian Lance Benishek (see http://dancehistory.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=866)
- Let's Dance. Arthur Murray. 1937. Standard Brands Incorporated. page 27. No ISBN in this "booklet" which appears to have been sold by mail. "Can people really learn to dance from printed lessons?"
- San Antonio Rose - The Life and Music of Bob Wills. Charles R. Townsend. 1976. University of Illinois. page 198. ISBN 0-252-00470-1