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Shag championships on tap in Myrtle Beach area

The National Shag Dance Championships begin Jan. 28-29 at 2001 Nightclub with two nights of preliminary rounds leading to the finals March 10-12.

The events next weekend include the fifth annual "Shagging With the Stars" on Jan. 28 and a first-ever Collegiate Shag Championship Jan. 29.

Barry Thigpen, founder and chairman of the national championships, in their 28th year, said officials continue to keep activities fresh, with new "stars" vying for 2010 male and female titles, and adding a college competition for which at least six regional schools - including Coastal Carolina University, with Candace Hamilton and Hunter Frye - will enter a pair each.

"We only think that will only grow," Thigpen said of the college faceoff, explaining the marketing push toward young adults. "If they live near a college, we try to get the word out."

Confirmed "stars," who have never taken part in major shag competitions, are Kelly Bain of RE/MAX Ocean Forest, Paula Caruso and Jamie Arnold of WMBF-TV News, Blakely Jenkins of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, Julie Kopnicky of United Way of Horry County, Heba Salama from NBC's "The Biggest Loser," local model Maegen Sweat, Vince Bettinazzi of the Myrtle Beach Fire Department, dentist Dr. Russ McCrackin, Cpl. Michael Quinn of the Myrtle Beach Police Department, movie actor Tyrone Power Jr. and Brad Richardson, an assistant Horry County solicitor.

Looking over that list, Thigpen said Salama and her husband, Ed Brantley, have engaged in cookbook writing, and he remembers Power, whose movie credits include "Shag - The Movie" and "Cocoon."

"He took lessons from us 22 years ago," Thigpen said.

Citing a winning star from 2010, Myrtle Beach Police Cpl. Bryan Murphy, Thigpen said having a city firefighter and officer each taking part this year also will add another interesting twist.

Salama, who with Brantley won the sixth season in weight loss on "The Biggest Loser," said her husband graduated from the College of Charleston. She's excited about visiting the coast again from Raleigh, N.C., and is always eager to use her name to help charitable causes.

Thigpen said a portion of funds raised go toward the Beth Mitchell Memorial Scholarship, named for the 1998 national nonpro shag champion, to assist college students who have competed or whose parents have competed at these shag finals. In each of the past 12 years at the finals, a student received the scholarship, and officials hope with more support that two or three awards could be made annually in the future.

"I've never shagged in my life," Salama said. "But it's about having fun. It's a cultural experience. I'm learning that shag has a culture."

Janet Harrold, sales and marketing director for the Society of Stranders (more details at 222-3276 or www.shagdance.com), is among the instructors. She said it's modeled after aspects from ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," but with local participants representing many walks of life, "We make them a star."

Harrold said winter kicks off a season in the local shagging world. The SOS midwinter gathering took place last weekend, and competitive dancers, family and friends look forward to the preliminaries this weekend and the championships in March.

"It's kind of a domino effect," she said.

She brought up the abundance of shag competitions on the Eastern Seaboard and that the USA Grand National Dance Championship, which she said combines shag and swing, happens in late May.

"It's definitely part of the culture," Harrold said. "Not just here, but in North and South Carolina, Virginia and Florida."

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