Originating on the beaches of North Carolina, the shag dance twirled its way across the dance floor for 60 years before landing at Springfield Mall, in a charity effort for The Hospice of Northern Virginia.
As one of the group’s two major fund-raisers for the year, members of the Northern Virginia Shag Club showed off their steps for the shoppers on Saturday, June 21, in their fifth annual "Shag-a-Thon." Vienna resident Valerie Swiger was familiar with the origin of shag.
"Shaggin's been around since the 1940s. It started on the beaches of North Carolina. Very few people up here in the D.C. area have ever seen shag dancing," she said.
The Hospice appreciates the efforts as well. Hospice representative John Fox was on hand. Fox isn't a shag dancer himself but knows The Hospice relies on contributions. Through the years, this shag club has raised $66,000 for The Hospice.
"They're dancing for enjoyment and helping other people too," Fox said.
The Hospice makes "comprehensive medical care and support available to people coping with a serious illness that cannot be cured," according to their literature. In previous years, the Shag Club raised funds for Toys for Tots as well as Coats for the Homeless, but a few years ago it chose The Hospice as its charity of choice and stuck with it. Each dancer enlisted sponsors, and mall patrons were contributing to the donation jar at the shag information table. The Hospice of Northern Virginia is the group’s only charity.
"This is the only official charity event during the year except for the golf tournament. One year, we raised $22,000 in one day," she said.
That day was in the Landmark Mall in Alexandria, where they have danced in past years. This year, Landmark wanted to charge the club for the charitable event, so members approached Springfield Mall, where the fund-raiser was held once before.
DANCERS SET UP in the J.C. Penney court at the mall, joined hands and started with their basic step. Then they let loose, twirling and following set patterns as though there were dance steps laid out on the floor. According to Swiger, there are three basic steps, but "the shag has thousands of steps" for the well-versed dancer. At times it resembled a cross between a square dance and a swing dance. Vesta Jones, from Potomac, Md., was president of the club for two years. She is now in charge of their Web site.
"I love the music and the dance, but the whole group is like a family," she said.
Jones has been into shagging for a year, traveling with the group a few times to organized functions. From her experiences, she's made a lot of friends on the circuit.
"I have family [dancing acquaintances] up and down the East Coast," she said.
Jones has attended the SOS dance in Myrtle Beach, which is sponsored by the Society of Stranders, the national umbrella organization for all the shag groups. Under SOS is the Association of Carolina Shag Dancers, and the Northern Virginia Shag Club falls under them.
"I probably danced with over 100 people [at SOS]," Jones said.
Heather Jennings and her husband, Craig, are from King George, Va., and are regulars to the Club's event. They've competed in the National Shag Dancing Competition, which takes place annually in Myrtle Beach. Heather Jennings found no trouble in getting sponsors for this fund-raiser.
"People are very gracious when you tell them it's for a charity. Anyone that's had to use hospice gives immediately," she said.
Jean and Keith Teele bonded their friendship through shag dancing and eventually got married. Their first experience with the dance was at the weekly meeting at Nostalgia’s in the Fair Oaks Mall every Wednesday. It grew from there.
"He wasn't doing shag until we started going," Jean Teele said.
Jennifer Smallwood and Janet Turner were watching the dancers at the mall. They were first introduced to the dance by stumbling on the group while at Nostalgia's.
"We went and saw them Wednesday night at Nostalgia's. We're going to take lessons next Wednesday," Smallwood said.