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.
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.
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!