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What’s the difference between shagging and the old Bop?

Ben Steelman

It all depends on who you ask, said Babs McCullen-Walker, instructor and owner at Babs McDance Social Dance Studio, 6782 Market St., Wilmington [Map this]. It also depends on where you are, what kind of music you’re listening to while you’re dancing and sometimes how fast you’re dancing.

Is that confusing enough? Let’s try to spell it out.

Some people would be hard-pressed to see any difference at all between shagging and the Bop. Both are slotted swing dances, which seem to have evolved over time from the basic Lindy hop and other forms of “jitterbugging” from the 1930s and ’40s. (They’re called “slotted,” because the dance partners move back and forth in a “slot,” instead of swaying all around the dance floor, “in the round.”) Both generally follow a double-triple-triple count (as in “one, two, three-and-four, five-and-six”).

According to Babs, the Bop has a stronger down beat, and the dancers press down on the floor harder. (The questioner wrote, “I can still hear the THUMP when everyone’s foot hit the floor at the same time.”) Shagging — and let’s not forget that Carolina shagging has NOTHING to do with the British/Austin Powers slang definition — is a little freer, looser on the steps; it’s sometimes called a “rooster dance” since the great male dancers, like “Chicken” Hicks of Carolina Beach, loved to improvise and show off their moves.

Again, it depends on which period you’re talking about. Shagging emerged on the South Carolina Grand Strand in the 1940s, soon after World War II, and in Carolina Beach not long afterward, or at about the same time. (A few of the faithful claim that Hicks and his buddies invented it after slipping over to the all-black “juke joints” at Seabreeze to check out the new steps over there.) It revived in the early 1960s when Harry Deal and the Galaxies began playing at the Myrtle Beach Pavilion and groups like The Embers began touring the North Carolina coastal resorts, playing “beach music,” which sounded a lot like early Motown rhythm ‘n’ blues.

The Bop was more associated with the mid-1950s and the Elvis era — or, more specifically, with Gene Vincent and his single “Be-Bop-a-Lula,” released in 1956. (It should be emphasized that THIS bop has nothing to do with the bebop jazz of the ’40s and early ’50s, as practiced by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, etc. — great stuff, but a totally different animal.) That’s about the time our questioner recalled bopping at Johnnie Mercer’s Pier at Wrightsville Beach.

You’ll also find regional variations. What they call “Beach Bop” in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and North Florida, sounds a lot like Carolina shagging. If you go to the Florida Boppers’ Web site, you’ll find dance instructions that sound suspiciously like what shaggers do at Myrtle Beach.

Of course, as Babs notes, the so-called “St. Louis shag” is nothing like Carolina shagging. The Philly Bop is a lot different from ’50s Bop (they jump out of the slot completely), and the Savannah Bop is awfully close to shag.

If you’d like to learn more, check out “Shagging in the Carolinas” by ” ‘Fessa” John Hook (Arcadia Publishing, 2006), which is informative but a little eccentric; Hook claims people were shagging at Lumina in the late 1920s and at Wilmington’s Roaring ’20s “Feast of the Pirates.”

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4 Responses to “ What’s the difference between shagging and the old Bop?”

  1. On June 27, 2009 at 12:04 pm jerry wrote:

    is there a way to know how many people read this question?

  2. On June 29, 2009 at 10:47 am David Lewis wrote:

    After reading your comments re/ “shag” and bop,” I’ll only ask this: Where may a obtains cds of Buddy Skipper and the Jetty Jumbpers?

  3. On August 30, 2009 at 11:21 pm june & audrey wrote:


  4. On July 15, 2015 at 7:05 pm Julie Dale wrote:

    I was in the original “Movie tone News” reel shown in every theatre on “What’s new on the Dance Floor by the Nations Top Bop Dancers” it was filmed in Chicago, Il at the old Sherman Hotel and my partner was from Ohio I am from Sterling, Illinois.

    The dancing described here is not the Bop and the other people leaching it on the internet are not doing the bop.
    I am a dance instructor and need you to clarify history.


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