Teen shagger becoming a sensation

Posted 3/27/20

SILER CITY — If you thought shagging, the regional swing dance originated some 70 years ago in the coastal Carolinas, was in danger of becoming a relic of the time in which it was born, you’ll be …

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Teen shagger becoming a sensation

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SILER CITY — If you thought shagging, the regional swing dance originated some 70 years ago in the coastal Carolinas, was in danger of becoming a relic of the time in which it was born, you’ll be encouraged to know the beach music dance staple still has ardent champions — even some young ones — nurturing it in the 21st century.

One of them is 13-year-old Zane Morgan.

“He is an amazing young man,” said his grandfather, Bunkey Morgan, a local businessman and former Chatham County commissioner. While a grandfather’s opinion may be a bit biased, he’s also not wrong.

Though still in his early teens, Zane has, for several years, been an accomplished shagger, competing in dance events throughout the Southeastern United States — including showing off his shagging moves on a stage in Florida’s Disney World — and as far away as Paris, France. He’s also competed in his home state (he’s a Chatham County native), South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and California.

“He’s won and placed in many dance contests,” Morgan said.

Along the way, Zane has claimed a number of prizes and trophies for his skilled footwork, distinguishing himself on the shagging circuit.

“I’m decent, but there’s always room for improvement,” Zane modestly allowed of his dance skills, but the many prizes and trophies he’s earned back him up.

“I’ve won a couple of first places,” Zane said. “And some second and third places.”

His most cherished trophy, so far, is the third place finish he and his partner claimed in the 2019 National Shag Dance Championship, held last year in Myrtle Beach, the epicenter of shagging.

At 13, he’s already a veteran dancer. He was first drawn to shagging at the age of 5.

Introduced to the dance by his older brother — 19-year-old Cody, a student at Appalachian State and a distinguished shagger in his own right — Zane immediately took to the activity.

“I tagged along with my older brother, and that’s how I got into it,” Zane said.

The appeal was simple: it was fun.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I’m still enjoying it.”

At the time the shagging bug first bit him, pop music acts like Beyonce and Rihanna ruled the airwaves and inspired folks in their own contemporary ways with their own contemporary rhythms to take to dance floors, but Zane was drawn to a dance that moved instead to the coastal-influenced sounds of more venerable musical acts like the Chairmen of the Board and General Johnson and other purveyors of the “beach music” that inspired folks on the North and South Carolina coast a few generations back to begin partnering up and moving together in the dance that came to be known as shagging.

Akin to the Jitterbug, and inspired by several popular African-American dances, shagging is a partner dance; and as dances go, shagging isn’t very complicated, Zane said.

“It depends on the moves,” he explained. “Some are harder than others. But it’s mostly in your legs.”

While shagging doesn’t necessarily require great athleticism, to excel at it — like one would with any undertaking — requires practice.

Zane has a regular dance partner — his friend Maci Walters, also 13, who lives in Trinity; they met at a regional shagging competition a few years ago — and the two get together routinely, usually at her home, to practice. Their practice schedule intensifies a week or two in advance of any upcoming dance events, but they practice together year-round.

It’s a commitment, but it offers rewards, too.

“It teaches maturity,” Zane said. “You have to show up for all the practices. You have to be committed to it.”

Once the young man realized shagging was something he was serious about, Zane was tutored in the dance moves by professional instructors.

“I went to private lessons,” he said, “and I just kept at it.”

Now, eight years after first recognizing shagging’s allure, the Siler City teenager’s interest in it isn’t abating.

Just a couple of weeks ago, he competed in a shagging event in South Carolina, the unofficial epicenter of shagging. The Palmetto State made shagging its official dance in 1984. North Carolina, likewise, officially embraced shagging in 2005 as the official state popular dance. (Clogging was selected the same year as North Carolina’s official folk dance.)

When he’s not dancing, Shane is an “A” honors student at Chatham Charter School in Siler City, where he is also a member of the school’s tennis team, and a clarinetist with the school band. He’s also a voracious reader and a pianist.

“Yes, I’m very proud of him,” said his granddad.

Temporarily practicing social distancing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic while his school is temporarily shuttered, Zane’s dancing is understandably on hold. But it’s not something he plans on giving up.

“I’m staying in shape, or trying to,” the teenager said.

And once conditions allow, he said he’s looking forward to getting back to the dance floor.

Randall Rigsbee can be reached at rigsbee@chathamnr.com.

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