CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Myrtle Beach is a popular vacation destination for many West Virginians. While there, some people may visit Fat Harold's, Ducks or a handful of similar clubs in North Myrtle. If so, they'll witness a type of dancing called the Carolina Shag.
For some of those visitors, simply experiencing the shag at Myrtle isn't enough. They bring it home, joining one of the five shag clubs in West Virginia: the Beckley Area Shag Club, the Bluefield Area Shag Society, the Almost Heaven Shaggers in Clarksburg, the Mid-Ohio Valley Shaggers in Parkersburg, and locally, the Charleston Area Shag Society.
"If you've ever wondered what it [shag] is, it's alive and well in West Virginia," said longtime CASS member and current vice president Dee Twohig, who with her husband, Kevin, has been teaching the group's dance lessons since 2000.
Elaborating on the dance, which is part of the swing dance family, she said, "It's slower than the jitterbug and a lot more footwork-oriented. It's a smooth dance."
Or, as club founder Sherri Moore said, it's "the jitterbug on Valium."
"It's the same beat, the same count, but you're not all over the floor. It's more controlled," explained Moore, who first learned the dance when dating a North Carolina man in the mid-1990s. He taught it to her so they could dance when she visited him.
Shag dancing is associated with beach music, but as long as it has the proper beat, a song in any genre can be used to dance shag. Cee Lo Green's "Forget You" is one, as is Santana's "Smooth." "There are even Lady Gaga songs you can shag dance to," Twohig said.
Locally, Moore attracted interest in the dance when she and her beau would shag dance to country music at clubs. Enough people wanted to learn that she began teaching lessons, first at the El Paso Club in St. Albans, then at Atlantis in Charleston. Soon, there was enough interest for a club, and CASS was formed in 1998.
"It's become an excellent organization for people of all ages to have good, clean, healthy fun," she said.
"I think I've saved lots of marriages over the years," she added and laughed. "It gets them out of the house doing something together."
CASS meets every Thursday at the Charleston Moose Lodge, 2805 Kanawha Blvd., for lessons and dancing. Membership costs $20 annually, but the group's activities are also open to non-members.
On Thursdays, lessons run from 7 to 7:45 p.m. with a dance immediately following until 10 p.m. For members, lessons are free and dances are $4. For non-members, lessons and the dance are $6 or the dance only is $5. (Part of the money the club raises goes to the Union Mission Food Pantry. Each club supports a local charity.)
Lessons alternate six weeks of beginner classes and six weeks of intermediate/advanced classes. The next round of beginner classes starts March 29. Those interested in attending should wear smooth-soled shoes (leather, suede, hard plastic) that will slide well on a dance floor.