Landis dancer wins national senior shag championship

Published 12:05 am Saturday, March 19, 2022

LANDIS — Tobitha Stewart took home her second national shag competition win last weekend.

Stewart teamed up with Gene Pope, a retired Cary fire chief, to win the senior division at the National Shag Dance Championships in Myrtle Beach.

This was the 38th competition and there were six divisions from juniors to seniors and a non-professional division as well.

Stewart grew up dancing. She remembers her parents square dancing and recalled the dance was popular in Rowan County while she was growing up.

Stewart first experienced shag while visiting the beach during high school with one of her friends. She fell in love with the style and the music, dancing to artists like Candi Staton.

“Dancing and music just go together,” Stewart said.

She won the competition in 2018 as well. She has not competed since  2019 because the COVID-19 pandemic began right as the 2020 competition was set to begin. She pulled back from competing.

“Everybody around me was getting sick,” Steward said.

Now Stewart said she is getting back to competing amid the “new normal” we are entering as COVID-19 cases continue to decline.

“I was excited to go,” Stewart said.

She also competes with her husband Ashley, who is mayor pro tem of Landis. They have been competing since 2008 and have been teaching shag since 2009.

She competed with Pope because she is older than Ashley and wanted to qualify for the senior division.

To prepare, Stewart and Pope began practicing in January. They alternated driving from Durham to Landis and vice versa on weekends to rehearse for hours at a time.

“We didn’t miss a weekend,” Stewart said.

Stewart said shag is male-led dance interspersed with “together steps” made up of intricate footwork done together.

“You have to get timing exactly the same, you have to have your angles exactly the same, your footwork, your arms,” Stewart said.

Competitors dance three times over the course of three days during the competition, judges combine the scores from the three nights and the highest-scoring duo wins.

After a lifetime of dancing, Stewart said she is still learning new things.

“With any professional dancer, when you stop learning something new then why are you doing it anymore?” Stewart said. “It doesn’t matter what age you are or what level you are, you can always learn something to take your dance to the next level.”

She said her fellow competitors were mostly a mix of people from the South, where the dance originated.

“It’s a very tight-knit group and everybody cares about each other,” Stewart said.

She said shag has been on the back burner and she knows local people miss her classes.

“It has a deep presence in our area,” she said.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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