Tag Archives: dance

Remembering Shag The Movie

“It’s been an honor to hear from so many people how much Shag the movie has meant to them,” said screenwriter Lanier Laney.  He is from Spartanburg, SC, and the movie is a retelling of his summers growing up at Pawleys Island watching his older brother going across the street to the Pawleys Pavilion to listen to the African American beach music bands and dance the Shag, a dance which had originated in the black clubs next to Ocean Drive in North Myrtle Beach. Shag poster (1)

The movie was set in pre-integration South Carolina, and it was white kids from upper class families who first starting going to hear black bands at the beach pavilions of South Carolina.  In upcountry towns like Greenville, Spartanburg and Charlotte, the only way the kids could hear the music was by tuning into powerful radio stations broadcasting from Nashville and buying records. The music was dubbed “race music” by their segregationist parents, and many white children were forbidden to listen to the music at the time.  But that did not stop it from becoming THE music and dance of several generations of South Carolina beachgoers.  Shag was named the State Dance of South Carolina in 1990 and when the movie was filmed here, it brought more than $5 million into the local economy.

“It was a miracle that Shag was ever made. It had no big stars, and it was about four girls from the South. Something that was not considered big box office at the time,” Laney said. “The total credit for that movie getting made goes to my co-screenwriter Terry Sweeney who sold it on a pitch to Guy MacElwane, then the head of MGM in California.”

Said MacElwane (after Terry’s pitch to him of what the movie would be about and what sort of things the girls would say) “I don’t know a thing about South Carolina or what the heck Shag is, but I do know you’re funny! Go write your movie.”

Terry and Lanier at Pawleys Island

Terry and Lanier at Pawleys Island

Laney and Sweeney wrote the movie at the Tip Top Inn on Pawleys.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Sweeney’s new book Irritable Bowels and the People Who Give You Them was released in 2015. Sweeney is remembered for his writing and performance on “Saturday Night Live” where he imitated Nancy Reagan and made history as the first openly gay performer on American television.

photo by Terry and Lanier

photo by Terry and Lanier

Sweeney and his husband Laney left their writing careers in Hollywood to make a life in Beaufort, SC .

Fat Harold Defined A Place to Shag

Harold M. Bessent died May 22, 2015.


He wasn’t fat, but the iconic businessman retained the Fat Harold nickname affectionately given him when he did weigh 320 pounds for many years. He was a North Myrtle Beach icon well-loved for his support of the dance culture as well as for his philanthropy. At age 81, he stayed firm in his passions for the shag and for Camp Kemo.harold

After Socastee High School, Clemson University and the U. S. Marines during the Korean War, he returned to North Myrtle Beach where he wanted to promote the town he has always loved.

“I could see the future of North Myrtle Beach,” he said.

First he bought the Pad, then the Spanish Galleon. He learned to shag dance in the 50s, and that story has defined a large part of his business ventures here. Building Harold’s Across the Street, then Fat Harold’s with seven dance floors in the original club, he watched the camaraderie grow. The growth of the Society of Stranders (SOS) and the dance events referred to as SOS are among Fat Harold’s true loves.

“We danced until we wore out,” he said. “I wish I had the shoe leather that’s been worn out on these floors.”club

The epitome of hospitality which made his clubs successful, he said, “I want you to feel at home when you walk in the club. I love the idea of knowing I made somebody happy.”

If you saw him at Fat Harold’s Beach Club on Main Street in North Myrtle Beach, you noticed his designated stool at the bar with the best view of the dance floor. signHe also owned Harold’s On the Ocean, which was especially loved for beach music on the oceanfront deck. It’s gone now, but never forgotten.

Fat Harold was an avid supporter of Camp Kemo for 30 years and was recognized for raising approximately $3 million. The 350-acre camp turns away no child. The state-of-the-art camp includes medical facilities, a heli pad and anything that could be needed to support the health, safety and welfare along with recreational needs of youngsters with cancer. He refers to these children as “my kids,” and they are always foremost in his thoughts.

DSC_9168 - Copy

photo by Jim Allen

lu lu

Lu Lu Quick-Rigsby, office manager at Fat Harold’s Beach Club, has worked every SOS since 1982, working as cook to bartender and anything else needed. She and four other women who are described as the core “his girls” have been with Fat Harold for a total of 150 years. She described the annual SOS event as “a convergence of lemmings going to the sea.”

She lovingly described Fat Harold as “heart as big as a great big teddy bear,” and repeats his favorite sayings:

“You ain’t been to the beach unless you’ve been to Fat Harold’s,” and “As long as you’re alive, you’ll always have a place to shag.”


The Dance!

It’s all about the dance!

Thousands of Baby Boomers, plus many older and younger, leave their hometown dance floors as many as four times each year to gather in the clubs and the streets of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The shag is the main attraction, but every dancer will also describe the camaraderie that creates the rich backdrop for SOS events.

The shag is a sort of swing or slow jitterbug dance with specific complex steps co-existing with simple moves for the amateur, set to beach music and evoking nostalgic coastal visits. North Myrtle is considered the home of the shag which was named the South Carolina state dance in 1984 through efforts of Rep. John J. “Bubber” Snow.home of the shag

SOS is actually the Society of Stranders, an organization begun as a reunion of lifeguards, waitresses and friends who had worked at the beach in the 40s and 50s. The term SOS has become synonymous with the events which the group sponsors. The primary events are Fall Migration in September, Mid Winters in January, Spring Safari in April and the Summer Workshop in July. The largest non-commercial parade in the Southeast is presented on Fun Monday during Fall Migration, according to the organization’s president. These Fun Mondays, also expanded to Fun Sunday, are huge street parties with bands on stage and non-stop entertainment. The public is encouraged to join the fun and the fundraising activities during these free events.

Ron Whisenant, president of SOS for 14 years, has been dancing here since the late 50s and recently retired and moved here. “SOS has a life of its own,” he explained. “OD is our Garden of Eden,” he said, of the Ocean Drive section of North Myrtle Beach. “It began as a party. The music and dance were here, and we adopted it when the party came here.”

Whisenant also describes the well-recognized philanthropy of  the Hall of Fame Foundation which has raised funds for Red Cross during the Barefoot fire disaster, for earthquake victims in Haiti and for Camp Kemo as well as often helping individuals in need. As much as $10,000 is raised in a single Fun Monday for the camp. The foundation also donates defibrillators and sponsors classes for club staff which have been credited with saving dancers in a health crisis.


Shaggers Trish Brown, Ron Whisenant, Jenny Beckham Johnson

Although it’s a party atmosphere including plenty of booze throughout the town, taxi service is encouraged and the organization provides a shuttle service along the boulevard on weekends.

Jenny Beckham Johnson began working at Duck’s during SOS in spring 1990 when it was a four-day party, and she has never missed the big event which is now ten days, working it twice each year for 24 years. Now she can be seen at OD Arcade mixing some serious margaritas and long island ice teas.

“I grew up with all of these people,” she said, describing the “generosity and love” that surround the gatherings. She remembers an occasion when $1000 was raised in tip jars in one hour for a fellow shagger in need.

The Guinness World Record was claimed two years ago when 750 dancers moved with the same step in unison for 90 seconds.

While a dancer can shag anywhere, the official SOS events require a membership card, when the SOS organization buys the dance floors of the clubs affiliated: Ducks, Pirate’s Cove, Ocean Drive Resort and Spanish Galleon, OD Arcade and Fat Harold’s Beach Club. Admission includes live entertainment at each club nightly, such as the Catalinas or Jim Quick & Coastline, among other popular groups appearing this year at Fat Harold’s, and a couple of buffet dinners. It’s easy and inexpensive to join SOS at a tent on the street during an event. You don’t even have to dance to be welcomed to membership.

“It’s a multi-generational meld and blend of people from every walk of life,” Whisenant described the “fun, benevolent and generous” group who gather regularly.” It’s not about politics or controversy, just fun and “good medicine for what ails you.”

“It’s spring break for adults,” Whisenant and many other shaggers define SOS. The dance floors and clubs are crowded during the events, but local dancers enjoy these floors every day.

The friendships developed over the years of shagging at the beach bring joys and sorrows and pepper any conversation about the event. After all, the dance doesn’t need discussing. It’s what keeps us all together!

It’s a North Myrtle Beach phenomenon, however it’s defined. A single 10-day event in September recently generated an economic impact of $10.5 million, according to a study by Coastal Carolina University.

A dance and so much more!