‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ traces evolution of beach music, shag dance

  • Posted: Saturday, September 8, 2012 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Thursday, September 13, 2012 9:02 p.m.

Tom Poland and Phil Sawyer take readers back to a time when jukeboxes broke a color line the radio couldn’t and the Charleston split into West Coast and East Coast dance moves in their new book, “Save the Last Dance for Me: A Love Story of the Shag and the Society of Stranders.”

Released this week in hardback and paperback by the USC Press, the book begins with a reversal of the Jim Crow color barrier, with white college students attracted to the segregated black dance clubs that sprang up in the beach areas after World War II. Even the Billboard charts were segregated, with the music played by black acts for the blacks-only clubs relegated to the “race music” chart.

“It occurred to me that we saw one of the early instances of political correctness taking place there in 1948. Jerry Wexler, who was Jewish and I’m sure sensitive to the power of words, decided ‘race music’ was insensitive, and got his employers at Billboard magazine to change the chart category to ‘rhythm and blues,’” said Poland in a phone interview.

Early gate-crashers in the black clubs saw and adapted the club patrons’ dance moves, a fast-paced offshoot of the Charleston called the Big Apple. Where the Charleston evolved into the lindy hop and then into West Coast Swing with its acrobatic lifts and jumps, on the East Coast the dance morphed into first the Big Apple and then what became known as shag dancing — slower in pace (which happens naturally on a dance floor of sand) with feet always on or near the floor.

Suzanne Stone is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard. She is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art & Design and studied communications at Augusta State University. She is a native of Augusta, Ga. Contact Suzanne Stone at sstone@aikenstandard.com, or follow on Twitter at #SuzanneRStone and on Facebook at Suzanne Stone is www.facebook.com/ASSuzanneStone.

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