A History Of Beach Music
Here’s a video of how to do the belly roll. Advance to 3:50 to get to the start of the demonstration.
Another article with more details about Charlie’s Place:
The Birth of Shag Dancing
The shag has many colorful descriptions ranging from “the swing dance of the South” to “the jitterbug on Quaaludes.” The jitterbug, which was the dance of choice at the time, was too fast for the R&B “beach music” played at the nightclubs local teenagers frequented. Lack of air conditioning also made it too hot for such fast dancing. Therefore, the shag is essentially a slowed-down version of the Lindy hop; the dancers subdued the jitterbug’s erratic movement to match the beach music’s relaxed tempo and from there, the Carolina shag was born.
Although there are some similarities between the shag and the jitterbug, the differences are considerable. For one, the styling is different; with shagging, the partners’ upper bodies are stable and controlled while the footwork is complicated and fast. Originally, the shag was focused on the male dancer, but that didn’t last long. Most of the free-spirited shaggers found it boring and restrictive, so it became much more common for the couple to do their own thing before meeting in a turn or spin.
The dance wasn’t always known by the same name. “Beach dancing,” “fas’ dancing” and “dirty shag” were all ways of referring to what we now call the Carolina shag. In 1984, the Carolina shag was named South Carolina’s official state dance and is widely practiced all over the country even today. The shag is an important part of Myrtle Beach’s heritage, and its historical impact was deeply profound.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, one would be hard-pressed to find music by black artists, known as “race music” at the time. This type of music was rarely played on the radio, and the records featuring it had to be specially bought. However, the new R&B style was popular among the young people of Myrtle Beach and became known as “beach music.” Teenagers of all races flocked to nightclubs and “juke joints” to dance. Beach music was primarily played in black nightclubs, but that didn’t stop white teenagers from joining the celebrations. It brought everyone together for nights of fun and camaraderie.
Charlie’s Place was one such nightclub. In fact, it was arguably the most popular and definitely the most notorious. Owned by Charlie Fitzgerald and his wife, Sarah, Charlie’s Place was located on the Hill—the African American section of town. Though Jim Crow laws were still enforced in this era, the club was always packed with white and black dancers alike.
Charlie’s is even considered by some to be the birthplace of the shag. Charlie’s Place was founded in the 1930s and existed until the ’60s. In 2017, the city put a plan in motion to preserve the building and repurpose it as a community center and museum.
However, the story of shag dancing isn’t just beach music and unity: the flouting of Jim Crow laws was met with hostility from the local Ku Klux Klan. The Klan insisted that Sarah Fitzgerald was a white woman and that Charlie’s patrons were violating segregation laws. Thomas L. Hamilton, the Grand Dragon of the South Carolina Klan, led a brigade of his members through the Hill in a 26-vehicle procession, led by a car sporting a glowing cross.
Most of the residents were terrified, locking themselves inside and praying for the parade of hatred to pass. However, one vocalized the displeasure they all felt. The brave resident phoned the police to deliver a threat: if the KKK returned to the Hill, there would be violence. When the KKK caught wind of the threat, they returned for vengeance and targeted Charlie. Upon their arrival, he was standing on the porch of his establishment with a weapon. He never fired. The mob wrestled the gun from him and beat him severely; then, they destroyed his furniture and rained bullets down on his nightclub.
Only one KKK member was injured: a South Carolinian police officer named James Daniel Johnston, who was hit by a stray bullet. Though his fellow Klan members abandoned him and Charlie on the side of the road, a passerby took Johnston to the hospital where he later died. Charlie survived his injuries and would eventually make a full recovery.
At first, the police did nothing, but the media wouldn’t be silenced. After five days of pressure, Horry County’s Sheriff C. E. Sasser began to investigate furiously. Charlie was arrested but soon cleared. Thomas Hamilton was arrested and charged with inciting a riot. His robe and a 16-ft. bullwhip was confiscated and 10 more klansmen were arrested by the end of the week.