Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Carolina Shaggers: Dance as Serious Leisure

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Carolina Shaggers: Dance as Serious Leisure

Article excerpt


"Modern America is an archipelago of subcultures, a land where, to a peculiar extent, people shape their lives around private passions, and form national families of kindred spirits" (Sides, 1992). The involvement of individuals in particular leisure activities has been the focus of an increasing number of studies. This tendency can be attributed to the increased interest of researchers in showing how people become involved in leisure activities, why they cease or continue to be involved, and the development of a continuous, career-like commitment to an activity (Mannell & Kleiber, 1997). Stebbins (1979, 1982, 1993, 1996, 2002) is convinced this goal may be reached through serious rather than casual or unserious leisure. Stebbins extensive research in serious leisure shows that people of all ages and social classes are drawn to the activity. He notes that, although they are small in number, there are some participants who pursue the leisure activity with unusual intensity and fervor. This presents the question of why some people "get hooked" on an activity. The purpose of this study is to examine shag dancing as a form of serious leisure. The subculture of shaggers is used to explore the six interrelated qualities of serious leisure as defined by Stebbins.

Indigenous to the South, shag dancing and beach music are almost entirely unknown outside of North and South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia. The shag, South Carolina's official state dance and North Carolina's official popular dance, originated in the early 1940s as a favorite dance of white, southern teenagers (Bryan, 1995). Distinctive features of the dance include a languid sensuality and slow, casual thigh and chest contact. The shag is danced to beach music, a term that originated in the mid-1940s as a cover term for an eclectic assortment of early rhythm and blues, rock and roll, pop music, and black gospel (Crease, 1988). The subculture of shaggers is interesting because of its history of serious involvement and commitment. Some shaggers have been involved with the dance for more than sixty years. There is also an astonishing stability in membership. As both younger and older participants have been recruited, the subculture is now intergenerational.

Background Literature and Theoretical Perspective

Stebbins introduced the concept of serious leisure and its counterpart, casual leisure, in 1982. Serious leisure is denned as "the systematic pursuit of an amateur, hobbyist, or volunteer activity that is sufficiently substantial and interesting for a participant to find a career there in the acquisition and expression of its special skills and knowledge" (Stebbins, 1992, p. 3). In contrast, Stebbins (1997) describes casual leisure as an immediate, somewhat transient activity that is pleasurable, intrinsically rewarding, and can be enjoyed with little or no special instruction or training. Types of casual leisure include social conversation, passive entertainment, and play. Stebbins (2001) denotes three types of serious leisure participants: amateurs, hobbyists, and career volunteers. Of the three types, Stebbins has given the least amount of attention to volunteers. The primary concern of his research has been amateurs and, to a lesser extent, hobbyists. Amateurs are differentiated by the degree of seriousness with which they approach their leisure activity.

There are six interrelated qualities associated with serious leisure that distinguish it from casual leisure (Stebbins, 1992). First, there is the occasional need to persevere in the activity to overcome difficulties. Next is the tendency for individuals to create careers in their endeavors and for the activities to become "enduring pursuits with their own background contingencies, histories of turning points, and stages of achievement or involvement" (p. 6). A third quality of serious leisure is the significant personal effort required which leads to the development of special knowledge, training, and skill. …

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