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SC’s state dance is as much about socializing as it is busting a move

Dede Ward grew up in Darlington, spending weekends on the South Carolina coast perfecting the Shag, the official state dance of South Carolina.

Jeff Ward didn’t dance when he met and married Dede, but weeks before she turned 50 he began taking private lessons, telling no one of his plan to surprise her on her birthday. At her birthday party, Jeff asked Dede to dance and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Wards turned pro in 2009, entering and winning Shag dancing competitions throughout the Southeast. Now semi-retired from competitive dancing, they continue to teach the dance that they say is as much about socializing as it is busting a move.

“The Shag community is one big family,” Dede says. “People move to the Upstate not knowing a soul and when they start shagging, they gain an entire network of friends. Even people who don’t want to dance come out and enjoy listening to beach music, making new friends and renewing old friendships.”

A dance for all ages, Jeff describes the Shag as one similar to West Coast Swing. Dede characterizes it as a slower Jitterbug. But both are quick to call it a “waist down” dance.

“You want the attention drawn to your feet, with very little movement of your head and shoulders,” Dede said. “You want to be smooth, laid back and be able to carry on a conversation while you dance.”

While shagging originated on the sands of the Carolina coast, the Upstate has a large contingent of shagging enthusiasts. Upstate clubs include the Carolina Shag Club in Greenville, the R&B Shag Club of Spartanburg, Upstate Shag Club in Spartanburg, Electric City Shag Club in Anderson, Greenwood Shag Club, Lake Wylie Shag Club in Fort Mill,  Abbeville Shag Society and York Shag Club. All clubs offer regular dance events and lessons.

For the Wards, teaching gives them the opportunity to keep the state dance alive by passing it along to newcomers and new generations of South Carolinians.

“We teach every age group from teenagers to empty nesters,” Dede said. “It’s not a difficult dance to learn and even our beginners learn enough to be confident and have fun.”

Want to learn the state dance from Professional Shaggers Jeff and Dede Ward?

Where:  Simpsonville Community Building in Simpsonville City Park, 406 E. Curtis Street, Simpsonville SC 29681

When:  4-week sessions start the first Thursday of each month; Beginner class at 6:30 p.m., learn the basic step, female turn, male turn and the shag start; Beginner II class at 7:15 p.m., learn classic Carolina Shag steps including the bellyroll, hip step, boogie walk, pivot, trail, sugarfoot and basic variations.

Cost: $30 per person for 4-week session or $10 per person per session in Beginner II class only.

No pre-registration required. For more information, contact Dede Ward at (864) 238-2960 or dwardgraph@aol.com.

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