One-and-two. Three-and-four. Five. Six.
Feet shuffle, and faces fixed in concentration stare downward. And finally, music starts playing, and people begin their first, uncertain dance steps.
Learning to shag can be hard, but the instructor at the Clayton Community Center makes it fun. A class started this past Wednesday at the town-owned community center on Amelia Church Road.
Shag dancing started in the Carolinas on the beach, beginning as “fast dance,” said instructor Don Bunn. “In the (1940s), a lot of the radio stations were not playing some of the music that they would play on the jukeboxes down at the beach,” he said. “So everyone would talk about going down to the beach and listening to some beach music and dancing.”
About 20 people signed up for Bunn’s class. The Clayton Parks and Recreation Department had tried to offer shag last fall, but not enough people signed up, said Matt Lorion, program coordinator.
“We’ve actually had more than a few people request it,” he said. “They had gone to our concert series during spring and summer, and they had seen other people shag dancing.”
Shag dancing is a social lubricant, Bunn said. “If you’re going to be around in this area and out dancing, you want to be able to do it,” he said of shag. “If I’m a single guy and I don’t know how to shag, my odds are much less. Same for the ladies. If they want to get asked to dance, they need to know how to shag.”
Jean Bryant, 71, of Clayton said she used to dance in high school and wanted to learn again. “It’s a physical thing for me,” she said. “When you start aging out, you need to keep exercising.”
Plus, she said, “I love any kind of music.”
Bryant described shag as a “peacock” dance. Typically, the men add the flare and fancy moves, while the women mostly follow along. But Bunn said that’s been changing recently, with shagging becoming more of a team dance.
Anna Hyatt, 54, of Garner had started to learn shag near her home, but then the place teaching lessons stopped. The former Wilmington resident had watched people shag there, and she wanted to learn how.
Hyatt said her goal is to be able to go to a dance without a partner. So she said to herself, “I’m gonna go do it and go somewhere and dance.”
Now that’s she’s back at lessons? “I love it,” Hyatt said.
Bunn gave words of encouragement, tips and advice throughout the lesson, even offering to be available by phone as people practice at home during the week. “Stand up by your phone, and I’ll stand up by mine, and we’ll walk you through it,” he said.
When they start to learn how to dance, people often lock their knees, hesitate and don’t take confident steps, Bunn said. “You use your whole foot when you walk,” Bunn said. “You’ll use your whole foot when you dance.”
Janice “J.P.” Phillips, 61, recently moved to Clayton with her husband; they’re friends of Bunn and already know how to shag but came out to support him.
“Having just moved to the area, I don’t know anybody,” Phillips said. “I thought this would be a good place to meet new people.”
Plus, taking the class is a way to share her love of shag with others; she grew up dancing on the beach. “We dance, dance dance,” Phillips said. “It keeps us young.”
“It’s what we love to do together,” Phillips said of herself and her husband. “And you meet the nicest people.”
Beach music, Bunn said, usually has a slower tempo, and different types of bands play the music. The pace lets people match the kick-ball-chain, kick-ball-chain, rock-step rhythm.
Lorion said the Community Center would offer the class again if enough people are interested.
The Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center doesn’t hold any dance lessons at the moment, but center supervisor Kristin Sasser said if people are interested and can work around the fitness class schedules, she would be happy to organize dance lessons. “We could definitely look at working something into that,” she said.