Salisbury Shag Club turns 20
By Kathy Chaffin
It all started 20 years ago with a group of people who loved to shag.
There were 21 of them then, and they met at Peepers, a nightclub in downtown Salisbury. When Peepers closed, O’Malley’s drew them in with its Friday Night Shag special with Ron Arey as DJ.
“We’ve just been going from club to club,” said Connie French, social chairman of the Salisbury Shag Club. The membership has grown to 168 with members from Rowan, Cabarrus, Davidson and Stanly counties, and the club currently gets together weekly to shag at the Salisbury Elks Lodge.
Saturday night, the current members invited all former members along with the staff of WRDX, a former FM beach music radio station in Salisbury, to celebrate the club’s 20th anniversary.
French, whose husband Rae is serving his third year as president, said they sent out more than 600 invitations in Rowan and several surrounding counties.
About 300 people showed up for the celebration, including several charter members and WRDX staffers. DJ John “Fessa” Hook, who now has a beach music Web site with 30,000 listeners, traveled from North Myrtle Beach to provide the music.
Club members, some of whom hadn’t seen each other in years, socialized and danced, filling the downstairs and upstairs dance floors at the Elks Lodge on South Main Street.
While Hook served as DJ downstairs, five former DJs provided the music upstairs: Clyde Waller of China Grove, who was one of the DJs when the club first started; Butch Mattox of Mount Pleasant, who joined the club as DJ in its middle years; “Fast Eddie” Thompson of Lexington, a member of the WRDX staff; current DJ Dana Grubb of Spencer; and Eddie Harwood of Granite Quarry, a member of the Elks Lodge.
French said the celebration lasted into the early morning. “I think the last people got out of there about 1:30,” she said, “and that’s not counting the cleanup crew.”
Joining in the celebration was Ben Sides, a charter member and the oldest current member of the Salisbury Shag Club. “And the best,” he chimed in when French introduced him Saturday night.
Sides turns 80 on Oct. 5.
In 1983, shortly after Sides retired as an administrative assistant at the Hefner VA Medical Center, his younger brother, Jack, talked him into taking shag lessons.
“I had no idea what that was,” he said. “I thought shag was a rug. I didn’t have any idea it was a dance.”
Jack Sides and his girlfriend, Frances Fulmer, finally convinced Ben and his late wife, Margaret, to accompany them to their lessons in Kannapolis. And to make a long story short, Ben Sides has been shagging ever since.
“At times, I’m really good,” he said, “and at times, I’m not. It just depends. I’ve been in the club for 20 years, and I love it.”
Sides said the 21 charter members included several from Albemarle, who drove from Salisbury to Peepers because Stanly County was dry at the time.
Saturday night’s anniversary celebration was wonderful, he said. “I guess I must have got a million hugs and a thousand kisses.”
Marlene Owen is another charter member of the club and an example, according to a fellow member, of how shagging can keep someone young. Owen, who turns 70 on Sept. 30, does not look her age.
“She has great genes,” said member Wanda Bradshaw, “plus she works out every day lifting weights.”
Sitting at a table next to Owen, Debbie Heilig introduced herself as a “one-legged shagger.” Heilig lost her left leg as a result of a May 29, 2004, automobile accident.
But you wouldn’t know it to see her on the dance floor, said fellow club members.
Heilig said she vowed after the accident that she would dance again, and on New Year’s Eve 2005, she did just that. “Shaggers are die-hards,” she said.
French described the Salisbury Shag Club as a big family. “We have some good times,” she said, “and we share in everybody’s bad times.”
While Salisbury Shag Club members were celebrating their anniversary, the former staffers of WRDX held their own reunion. Wanda Bass of Lexington, known to radio listeners as “Wonderful, Wicked Wanda,” greeted former coworker “Fessa” Hook with a big hug.
Hook said it was his first trip back to Salisbury since 1994.
With Bass was her husband, Johnny, also a former radio staff member.
One of the highlights of the year for Salisbury Shag Club members is the annual SOS (Society of Stranders) Fall Migration to North Myrtle Beach, attended by almost 15,000 shaggers from throughout the SouthEast.
The club traveled to the beach for the first time in 1988, and several at Saturday’s celebration were already talking about this year’s SOS festivities, scheduled for Sept. 12-21.
Though they enjoy shagging, their beach trips and having a good time, the Salisbury Shag Club also contributes to the community.
In 1989, the club ranked third in Rowan County behind corporations such as Food Lion for its sponsorship of the March of Dimes. The club also holds an annual golf tournament to raise money for Rowan County Relay for Life and Rowan Regional Hospice.
This year, French said, the club and its corporate sponsor, Bank of America, raised raised $19,000 for those three causes.
The objective of the Salisbury Shag Club is to bring together individuals with an interest in beach/shag music and the preservation and development of the dance known as the Carolina Shag. A member should be able to do a basic shag step of some kind or be interested in learning.
A current member must sponsor a new member, and the entire club votes on all new members. Junior members between the ages of 15 and 21 must be accompanied by a parent or an adult member.
For more information about the Salisbury Shag Club, log on to its Web site at www.keeponshagging.com.
The Web site for DJ John “Fessa” Hook’s “Endless Summer Network” is www.beachshag.com.