The dances of days gone by

Published 6:29 pm Monday, April 20, 2020

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My wife Tracey and I were sitting on the front porch last Sunday, trying to forget that there was a pandemic surrounding us. We were happy to just watch the sunset on the Pamlico, when we heard a familiar voice on the radio. It was Craig Woolard playing beach music. That was kind of personal to me because I have known him a long time — we grew up together. Craig was talking about beach music and a dance called the shag.

Now, I knew what those two terms meant, and I was trying to put them together, because I learned the bop and then it became the shag. Some of us were fortunate to take dance lessons from Marie Wallace, and we practiced the bop at the American Legion Hut on U.S. Highway 17 by holding the bars. When we got to a step we could not do, she was always there to help make it easier. That, for me, was what grew into being called the shag.

Years before me, my mom and dad did the jitterbug, and I was told that my dad loved to dance. They always attended the June German in Rocky Mount. Then Stewart Rumley told me of the times he had at the pavilion at Bayview, and I learned later, that many, including Doc Kugler, learned to dance the bop at Bayview. My age group attended every dance at the Parish House where we danced and were thankful that Mr. and Mrs. Lex Mann were there to chaperone us (the parents of Sally, Lex and Cathy Mann). We also did a line dance called the Continental. Along the shores of the Pamlico, there were many dance halls, almost at every beach, and they were full each Saturday night with young people dancing the night away.

The biggest pavilion was in the circle at Atlantic Beach, and Nags Head, not to be outdone, had the Casino. Upstairs in the casino was the biggest dance hall I had ever been in once I started going to the beach.

You see, friends, we did not need the beach because we had the Pamlico! Every town with a population similar to Washington had an Armory and several tobacco warehouses where dances could be held. We saved up our money and planned to see bands like The Tams, The Platters, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Embers and my all-time favorite, Bob Marshall and the Crystals. Wherever he played, I wanted to be there. It was good, clean fun, just young kids having a good time!

So you see, the jitterbug evolved into the bop and the bop into the shag, and they all had eight count beats. Some of us practiced at home holding onto door knobs. My wife and her sisters used a towel tied to the door to get a better feel for someone holding their hand. Regardless of the dances, music has always had a unifying effect on Americans. I thank Craig Woolard for all he has done to help make us all forget the problems we face today, listening to his songs either live or on the radio. Craig, you are one of Washington’s favorite sons! Thank you for the memories of days gone by.

They were the best of times with the best of friends and in the best of places Washington, N.C.! The Original Washington!


— Harold Jr.

Harold Robinson Jr. is a native of Washington.