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State Symbols and Icons: Song and Dance

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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Clap your hands, lift your voices, cut a rug—these are some of the ways South Carolina expresses its unique identity. The designation of official music and dance gives special meaning to our way of life and history.

Establishing state symbols first enjoyed widespread popularity in the late 1900s with the adoption of state agricultural and wildlife symbols. Before that, it was customary to choose a symbol and flag upon achieving statehood. In 1911, South Carolina was one of the first states to establish the tradition of legislative designations, and other states soon followed.

Today, South Carolina has 44 official state symbols and icons established via legislative acts, including these official “appointees” that honor the spirit and roots of South Carolina through song and dance.

State Songs
That’s right—South Carolina has two official state songs. The first, titled “Carolina,” made it to the top in 1911. Written by music composer Anne Custis Burgess and poet Henry Timrod, the anthem struck a chord with South Carolinians with its rousing lyrics:

Call on thy children of the hill,
Wake swamp and river, coast and rill,
Rouse all thy strength and all thy skill,
Carolina! Carolina!

Sadly, Burgess died a year before the song achieved its impressive distinction. The home where she was born still stands in the town of Summerton, where it is a designated historic site. The one-room schoolhouse where Timrod taught the children of a local plantation owner can be seen at Timrod Park in the city of Florence.

A second song, “South Carolina on My Mind,” by Hank Martin and Buzz Arledge, featured a more modern conveyance of state pride and conjured images of South Carolina’s stunning natural beauty. It received its “state song” designation in 1984.

With those clean snow-covered mountain Wintertimes
And the white sand of the beaches and those Carolina peaches,
I've got South Carolina on my mind.

State Music
The root of all gospel music is the Spiritual, a soulful, hauntingly beautiful singing style. Passed down through an oral tradition by enslaved West Africans, spirituals are sung acapella in a “call and response” style and are sometimes accompanied by hand-clapping and foot-stomping. In 1999, Governor Jim Hodges paid tribute to the spiritual’s significance to this state by signing a bill to make it the official music of South Carolina.

Deeply ingrained in local Gullah culture, these cherished songs are kept alive and shared by talented groups like Ann Calder and the Magnolia Singers, Mt. Zion Spiritual Singers and the Spiritual Gospel Singers of Columbia. If you ever have the chance to catch one of their performances, don’t pass it up.

State Popular Music
Beach music reigns supreme among South Carolinians. Love 1950s-60s rhythm & blues and pop songs? Then you are likely a fan, too! These songs feature a specific rhythm structure—a 4/4 blues shuffle—and a tempo that ranges from moderate and relaxed to quick and lively. It was named the official state popular music in 2001. The Embers, Band of Oz, Fantastic Shakers, Too Much Sylvia, The Tams and Carolina Breakers are some of the many bands that draw the beach music crowds across South Carolina.

State Dance
And what kind of dancing goes best with beach music? The shag! This fun swing dance with jitterbug vibes—designated as the state’s official dance in 1984—goes hand-in-hand with that beach music rhythm. The shag came to life in the 1930s and ’40s on the beaches of South Carolina and North Carolina.

A couples’ dance, the shag features a little fancy footwork without all the fuss of more formal types of dances. That’s not to say that “shaggers” don’t take their dancing seriously. Each year, the best of the best vie for titles at various competitions, including the Shag Nationals in Myrtle Beach. North Myrtle Beach, in particular, is a hotbed of shagging fun with venues like Fat Harold’s Beach ClubDuck’s Beach ClubOcean Drive Shag Club and OD Pavilion drawing crowds of dancers each year. At Ocean Drive Beach and Golf Resort, you’ll find the North Myrtle Beach Shagger’s Hall of Fame—a collection that reflects the fun spirit of this iconic piece of Grand Strand history.

State Folk Dance
South Carolinians like to dance so much, in 1994 the state legislature designated an official South Carolina folk dance, too: the square dance. All across the state, people young and old are roundin’ up their partners to partake in this traditional dance form. Created by bored pioneers who hungered for simple recreation, the square dance still has plenty of appeal. It offers a quaint, but highly enjoyable opportunity for socializing of the face-to-face kind—something to be prized in this day and age of high-tech entertainment options.

The popularity of the square dance is evident in the number of clubs, organizations and related activities across the state. The South Carolina Square and Round Dance Federation promotes the dance form by offering membership to square dance clubs, and there’s an association just for callers, too. Among the many, many square dance groups in South Carolina are the Thunderbird Square Dance Club of Greenville, the Carolina Promenaders of Rock Hill, the Sand Dollar Square Dance Club in Myrtle Beach and the Tanglefoots in West Columbia. Ready to do-si-do? Find a club near you, grab a partner and go!

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.