HAMLET — Sam and Lisa West are spreading the word about an upcoming shag dancing competition beginning Friday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. at The Ballroom.
Lisa West said she and her husband have been living the shag lifestyle for years, competing in contests across the country and teaching the style of dance to students of all ages.
“Sam is a 15-time national shag dance overall champion,” she said. “That’s different than being a division champion. That’s overall, so it’s the best. There are trophies all over our house.”
The couple’s love of shag dance led them to want to teach it others. The Wests have a number of students and teach a shag class every week.
“All of our kids are great kids,” Sam West said. “These kids are never in serious trouble. They’re always doing great in school. I think they compete with each other at school the same way they do on the dance floor. They’ll be out there Saturday afternoon, showing off their talents. I hope a lot of people will come out and see these kids dancing.”
“We have 27 juniors on our dance team, and they come from North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia,” Lisa West said. “But on Friday, our amateur division — they’re entry-level competitors — will dance first. Doors open at 7 (p.m.) and the competition is at 9 (p.m.) and is open to the public.”
Thanks to local sponsors, Sam West said, prizes can be awarded to the winners in their divisions.
“They get medals and cash,” Lisa West said. “Everybody that dances gets a medal. The cash amounts depend on how much we get from our sponsors.”
“The juniors are divided into categories,” Sam West explained. “Junior 1 is anybody through age 14, then from 15-20 is Junior 2. These are by far the best shag dancers in the country. These same juniors will be going to California.”
“For the U.S. Open Swing Dance Championships in Burbank,” Lisa West added.
“This is what they strive to get to,” said Sam West. “This is the ultimate for swing dancers, to go to this competition. It’s all different kinds of categories of swing, and it’s the best dancers in the world — not just national.”
He said that he and his wife have won their divisions in the competition before, and that while they intend to do their best again, this year’s competition is “fierce.”
“What we want people to understand is that Saturday afternoon is a good time to bring kids out, see what shag dance is all about,” he said. “On Saturday, the general admission is $10 for adults and free for kids under 21. We actually sell seats for $20 a night. If you wanted a weekend band for $40, you can watch all of the competitions and also have a seat reserved.”
Shag dancing has an established place in the hearts of many Carolinians, since the dance form developed along the states’ coasts.
“It’s the state dance of both Carolinas.” said Sam West. “The thing about shag, how people grow to love it, it’s either one of three things first: they get involved with the music; they get involved with the people; or they get involved with the dance. You never know which order it’s going to come in, but usually, the shag lifestyle pulls you in, and then the dance is just a perk.”
He added that the traditional roots of shag dancing emerged from early rhythm and blues music in the coastal Carolinas — and that shag was originally an official dance of only South Carolina.
“North Carolina adopted it, too,” he explained. “So it really has two dances. One is that mountain dance, clogging. We dance to new rhythm and blues, but we dance to old R&B and the old R&B seems to appeal to the audience, who get drawn into it. It’s the old group doo-wop stuff.”
Sam West said that teaching a child to shag can be effective in building character.
“It’s a dance that brings families together,” he said. “Lisa and I have had plenty of people get married who met in our classes. There have been several of them. And I think dance is important for kids, because it teaches them manners. They learn how to talk to a girl properly, how to touch a girl appropriately and how to interact and be ladies and gentlemen.”
Businesses and people in the county who contribute to the local competitions fund the prize money for the winners.
“I have some local sponsors who try to help me out,” Sam West said. “Big Wave Radio, Sandhills Shag Club, Jeff’s Trophies, Grant’s Express, TRG Signs, Hardwick Vision, Glenn and Tina Austin, Trey and Martha Campbell, Kenneth and Claudia Robinette, Ronnie ‘Goober’ Gulledge and Mark and Katie Rohleder. They make a donation and get two seats at the table, and the rest of their money goes toward prize money. Counting Juniors, we give away about three grand.”
Lisa West said one is never too old or too young to take up shag, and encourages people to give it a try.
For more information on the event, call 910-582-0048.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.