By Jennifer Roush and Cindi Hersey
CLARKSBURG — In the spacious Elks Ballroom at the Village Square Conference Center, a group of mostly middle-aged men and women form two lines on the dance floor.
An instructor tells the group of 23 students that what they are going to learn revolves around six basic steps. These steps are the foundation for hundreds of routines in Shag dancing.
The group tonight will experience a piece of Myrtle Beach, S.C., in the mountains with some rhythm and blues music and laid back dancing. The club Shaggin’ with CLASS (Clarksburg Local Area Shag Society) officially began accepting members about a month ago, and it’s open to anyone.
Club President Cyndy Ritch starts the dance off on Friday, June 30, with sprinkling salt on the floor to make it smoother for the dance moves. The couples begin to pair up and eventually all rotate partners so even those without partners get to dance with someone.
Ritch says having an available partner is rare and you generally wouldn’t find that at a bar.
“Women can ask men to dance, and the men don’t turn them down,” she said. “That’s just the Shag thing. The man just accepts the dance. ... (Also) Men usually go around and ask women to dance.”
Ritch and Pattee Perkins, vice president, met at a Shag club in Parkersburg, when they decided to start one closer to home.
Perkins learned about Shag dancing like most people do — at Myrtle Beach where the dance originated.
“You see the dance at Myrtle Beach, and you go, ‘Oh, it’s beautiful. I want to do it.’ And for a lot of people, it’s all they ever do, but they don’t go out of their way to find a place to do it. But that’s what we did. We just went out of our way to find a place to do it. And we made a place for other people,” Perkins said.
“We love it so much that we want to share it with people, and that’s why we started this club and why the Elks Club has been so gracious to let us be here because it’s a love of that dance. It’s just a beautiful dance.”
Fairmont resident Ruth Heldrich was trying the dance for the first time this Friday night. She brought her dance partner, Orval Miller of Morgantown.
“It’s something new to the area,” she said. “We like square dancing, so we thought we’d try this.”
During the lesson part of the evening, which goes from 7-8 p.m., Philippi resident Sandy (who didn’t want to give her last name) stood to the side watching others trying the dance with the instructor’s leading. Soon a student asks her to dance, and she smiles before taking the floor.
Sandy read about the Shag dance club in the Clarksburg paper. It was her third or fourth week at the meetings. She said that it was clean, wholesome entertainment that she thought she could get into.
“I enjoy the people,” she said. “The instructors come right there to help you learn the steps. It makes you feel like you’re at the beach, even though you’re not. I love the music.”
Newcomers Mark and MaryAnne Ware of Clarksburg watch as the instructor takes the hand of another student and walks her through an unfamiliar routine. As they begin to catch on to the dance, Mark starts to break a smile.
“We like to dance anyway,” said MaryAnne. “So, we decided to try this because we thought it might be fun.”
Barbara Goodwin of Clarksburg missed the first two classes held by the Clarksburg club, but has caught everyone since. She comes to the group as a single, but gets to dance with different partners as they rotate.
“Years ago, my husband and I went to Myrtle Beach, and that’s when we first saw it,” she said. “We loved to dance. We did more of a jitterbug, but he died last year. ... It (Shag dancing) got me out. It’s something you can do. It’s very social.
“You just have a great time with a great group of people, and you meet people from other clubs. You visit their clubs; they visit your club. And it just opens up a whole different world to a new group of people.”
After the lesson hour, the dancing continues until 10 p.m. every other Friday led by a DJ. The club is free to Elks members and there is currently only a $10 fee until the end of the year to become a club member. If you don’t become a member, it’s $4 a lesson.
Perkins thinks that this dance is for anybody.
“If you really want to learn this dance, the main thing is, if you can count to six, you can do Shag,” she said.
For more information on the club, go to shagginwithclass.com.
E-mail Jennifer Roush at firstname.lastname@example.org.