My Last First Dance

My Last First Dance | Shagging may be South Carolina’s state dance, but that didn’t endear it to this woeful groom on his wedding day

There really was no choice when it came to the music at our reception, thanks to my father-in-law. A veteran shagger from his summers in the ’60s as a Myrtle Beach lifeguard, he’s still a member of the “Knights of Many Adventures,” a social organization comprised of his old buddies (and their wives) that meets regularly at places like Fat Harold’s to dance the evening away.

His daughter and I could marry, he conceded, but we would have to shag to a beach band on our wedding day. I agreed as sort of a down payment on the price I paid for him allowing me to marry his little girl—a deal I still find not only rea­­­sonable, but on par with the ­­Louisiana- Purchase.

Given my two left feet, he could have chosen a Russian folk dance and the results would have been the same—disastrous. I still have nightmares that dance partners from my teenage cotillion classes are on prescription painkillers for the permanent damage I inflicted upon their toes.

So, wishing to at least maintain my dignity on the nuptial dance floor, I took shagging lessons. More accurately, I had every intention of taking shagging lessons, but being philosophically inclined, I found the idea of shagging lessons more compelling than the actual taking of them. Besides, I come from a long line of self-reliant folk. I’m convinced my family wound up in America when a 17th-century ancestor took them for what he intended to be a short sail—having forgone the services of a navigator, he ultimately landed them in Virginia. And being natural procrastinators, we Hunters simply never got around to returning to our native Scotland.

Drawing upon these dubious family reserves and predictably having waited until the last minute to train, I found some basic shag steps online, complete with animated footprints that could be speed-controlled to suit any level of ineptitude. A one-legged zombie could do this, I thought foolishly. Supplied with those virtual dancing feet and an instructional DVD lent to me by a groomsmen—a native Charlestonian, no less—I set about becoming a passable dancer. As instructed, I tied a necktie (meant to approximate my dance partner’s hand) to a doorknob and commenced to shagging my feet off. But if you believe Natural Law presides over the universe, you won’t be at all surprised to learn that there is no happily-ever-after for a man who dances with his ­­­bathroom door.

The wedding ceremony itself was magical. Flush with love and the well-wishes of friends and kin, my bride and I left the church and were met at the reception by the beach-music bandleader. “I’ll introduce you when you enter the ballroom,” he said, “and then we’ll begin the music for the first dance.” Now, while I didn’t intend to play the lush at my own wedding, I had hoped for some alcoholic buffer before taking center stage on the dance floor. The more our guests tippled, I had rationalized, the less their capacity to note my ineptitude. With that ploy dismantled, there was nothing to do but launch myself into it.

And launch I did, with all the grace of a helicopter whose tail rudder has been blown off by a surface-to-air missile. Before hitting the dance floor, my wife and I asked the bandleader to play a mercifully abbreviated rendition of “Save the Last Dance for Me,” but apparently my father-in-law beat me to the punch by instructing the band to do a painfully extended version. After flailing around through what felt like five verses and at least two musical interludes, my wife, having just vowed to stand by me “for better or for worse,” kept up a brave face until the exercise in humiliation screeched to an ungainly halt. As I slunk off the dance floor, having handed my sympathetic bride over to her impishly grinning father, my new brother-in-law gave me a knowing wink: “Not bad,” he said. “Welcome to the family.”