The Society of Stranders is holding its annual “Spring Safari” in North Myrtle Beach this week, culminating with a parade on Saturday.
This year marks the 35thanniversary of the Association of Carolina Shag Clubs, the 39thanniversary of SOS Spring Safari and the 25thanniversary of the SOS Parade.
“SOS started in 1980,” said SOS President Ron Whisenant. “The event in 1980 drew about 250 to 300 people. Today we have 14,000 members of SOS. It’s grown considerably; it’s a10-day event in the spring and in the fall.”
The Shag, a popular dance on the East Coast, is a descendent of the Jitterbug and is generally performed to “beach music,” which itself was born out of the “race music” of black musicians in the 1940s and 50s.
While there are different explanations of who actually invented the shag, the dance is closely associated with Ocean Drive Beach, now a part of North Myrtle Beach.
Described by Whisenant as the “Shag mecca” for the world, OD Beach was a popular spot for young people in the Carolinas to vacation during the summer, and today, many of those same folks come back for SOS week.
“I’ve been doing this since 1958,” said Whisenant. “Shag was the thing that I did in college and after college. It kind of died away in the 60s and there was a renaissance in the late 70s to bring the dance back.”
This will also mark the first SOS Week since Beach Shagging Hall of Famer Judy Collins passed away. Collins ran Judy’s House of Oldies and was inducted into the Shagging Hall of Fame in 1999.
“She was an icon and a pioneer,” Whisenant said. “Judy was a big part of SOS and what goes on today. She will always be in memory and she’s definitely had a hand in molding SOS culture. She won’t be forgotten.”
Shagger Joe Ross used to buy records at Collins’ store.
“Back in the days when we were still buying records and tapes, that’s where we got all of our beach music, because it wasn’t nearly available as it is today,” Ross said. “I mean, I’ve got on my i-Phone 400-something beach music tunes.”
But Whisenant said Collins’ passing doesn’t spell the decline of SOS Week.
“SOS has a lifestyle and a heartbeat all of its own and it will live on,” Whisenant said. “The nice thing about SOS is it’s created so many memories and so many new friendships.”
For Ross, it’s a reunion of sorts, a place to reconnect with acquaintances long lost to time and distance.
“I was walking through the pavilion last year, and this lady pulls my shirt and she said ‘Are you Joey Ross?’ And I said ‘Who’s asking?’ She said ‘Deborah Tucker.’ Well, I hadn’t seen Deborah Tucker in 50 years,” Ross said. “So that’s how important SOS and all of this is to us. We don’t ever want this to go away.”
Barry Grainger, of Whiteville, N.C. was in town with his girlfriend Laura and her granddaughter Lacy.
His parents, from Loris and Green Sea, used to come to Ocean Drive Beach on vacation, and he said he used to bypass security to get into the Spanish Galleon.
“I ain’t gonna lie, I used to jump over the concrete wall when I was 14-years old to sneak in,” Grainger said.
Lee Basinger, who now lives in Myrtle Beach, spent two college summers at Ocean Drive beach in the early 60s while attending the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He shared a house with 40 other boys in Myrtle Beach while working on a farm.
“We would get off work at 8 O’clock at night, and the girls got out of the restaurants at 9 p.m.,” Basinger said. “So we would all load up in cars, we’d come right down here to the OD pavilion. They had a jukebox down there and a concrete floor and we shagged down there at the jukebox. We’d stay up here until 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning, take the girls back home, and go to work the next morning at 8 o’clock.”
Basinger still goes to Fat Harold’s Beach Club every week to shag, and during SOS Week, people who have been shagging all their lives can learn new moves.
“It looks like it’s the same thing but it’s evolving all the time,” he said.
The SOS Spring Safari runs from April 24 to May 4. The parade down Main Street starts at 1 p.m. Saturday.