Social Dance Tradition in Augusta Still Going Strong
If you’ve ever taken Social dance, the memories linger for years: White kid gloves on ladies and the navy jackets on gentlemen, that first stilted shuffle around the ballroom floor to “Moon River” and the blessed, post-class, DQ Blizzard.
When it comes to the dance instructors, some will remember Miss Price, others recall Dorothy McLeod. But if you’ve taken Social within the last 25 years, the person who taught you the box step, the waltz and the shag was David McLeod.
If you ever happen to drop in on one of McLeod’s first-year classes, you’ll find a gaggle of teens—some with teeth bristling with braces, some giggling or slapping hands in greeting—gathered outside Social Inc. in their Sunday best, waiting for lessons to begin. As soon as the students file through the front door, their boisterous behavior ceases and poof, they’re instantly transformed into prim ladies and gentlemen.
It’s not magic. It’s the influence of McLeod who not only teaches dance steps, but also passes on the rewards of living a genteel lifestyle. His charges listen raptly as he warns them against giving a so-called “dead fish” handshake or pumping too many times. (“Like an old man wearing a straw hat,” he says.)
McLeod talks about the days when a gentleman used to kiss the back of a lady’s hand. A few groans rise from the teens who, after all, aren’t far removed from the days when contact with the opposite sex meant an incurable case of the cooties.
Occasionally McLeod will ask his students to switch partners and introduce themselves to a new partner to make small talk. It’s surreal to watch 7th graders simulating grown-up chit-chat—you almost imagine them swapping golf tips or dishing on their latest diet regimes.
While the conversation lessons seem to launch the teens into the future, watching them dance is like hopping on a time machine to the past. Much of the music hasn’t changed—McLeod says it difficult to find wholesome, modern music to dance to—and neither have the basics. The students assume escort position, arms extended and shoulders pulled back, and after the dance is over, a gentleman knows it’s essential to thank the lady for the privilege.
Other rituals of Social dance haven’t changed much over the years. Parents still have the tendency to pair their children with social partners years in advance, sometimes while they’re still in vitro. McLeod discourages the practice, since many potential partners will change schools or move away. Also students still have assigned seats along the wall of the ballroom. Each evening, roll is called, using the name of the male partner, and the couple stands to acknowledge their presence.
McLeod took over Social Inc. when his mother, Dorothy McLeod, retired, and he teaches almost all of the classes except for some manners classes.
“The students crave structure and rules,” he claims. “Also, many of them are nervous and don’t want to call attention to themselves. Occasionally a young man might roll a penny across the floor when I’m talking, but the pranks don’t get much more serious than that.”
McLeod takes great satisfaction in seeing his students gain confidence in their dancing and social skills. To those teens who might be a little reluctant to sign up, he understands because he took Social back in 1978.
“Just give it a chance,” he says. “Most, if not all students, eventually like it.”
Much credit for their enjoyment, surely comes from the instructor, whose easy-going manner and charismatic teaching techniques will be a fond part of their Social memories for years to come.
2016 Christmas Tour of Homes & Southern Dinner in Washington, Ga.
Why Go: Almost everyone who’s toured Washington, Georgia’s oak-lined streets comes down with a fierce case of house envy. The quaint burg boasts a number of beautifully restored historic antebellum and Victorian homes. On December 9 and 10 several private homes will swing open their doors to allow visitors to soak up the Christmas ambience and take in the finest architectural detail and furnishings of the Old South. The event kicks off with a champagne reception at The Fitzpatrick Hotel on Dec. 9 at 5 p.m.
Visit historyofwilkes.org/events.html for ticket prices for all events.
What to Eat: Feast on a five-course Christmas dinner at the Fitzpatrick Hotel on Dec. 10 for $50. Other eating options on the town square include Talk of the Town, which specializes in sandwiches, burgers and dogs. The Junkyard Dawg is smothered with so many toppings, the menu claims you’ll need a bib. To experience one of the South’s finest meat-and-threes, don’t miss Cade’s. You’ll scarcely notice the lack of ambiance as you tuck into some of the area’s best fried chicken and accompanying veggie victual
What to Explore: Guests can learn the history of downtown Washington while taking a guided walking tour of the square. Other weekend activities include visits to the Washington Historical Museum, which features several furnished rooms, authentically decorated with antiques dating to the mid 1800’s, and an exploration of Callaway Plantation, which was once a working plantation and includes a general store, a school house, a log cabin and other buildings. Need to get off your feet? Try a stained glass trolley tour.
Where to Stay: Washington is so close to Augusta you could make it a day trip but then you’d miss a one-of-kind stay at the Fitzgerald Hotel. Originally constructed in 1898, the lobby’s interior arches and stamped tin ceiling glow with loving restoration. Attention to historical detail is so exquisite, you could imagine you were staying at the hotel in an age where a mule-drawn trolley shuttled guests from the railroad depot to the hotel. Many rooms contain a claw-footed tub and fireplace but also offer all the modern amenities.
Visit thefitzpatrickhotel.com for more info.
Rates start at $124.
Distance from Augusta: Washington is 59 miles away or an hour’s driving time.
Augusta Novelist Pens Seventh Book
What if a stuffy literary writer and a vivacious self-published romance author fell in love? And what if she became far more successful than he? That’s the premise behind, Love Literary Style, (Henery Press, $15.95) the seventh novel from Augusta Magazine contributor, Karin Gillespie. The romantic comedy is loosely based on an article Gillespie wrote for the New York Times about an instructor who gave her grief for writing women’s fiction or, as he called it, “parlor fiction.” The article went viral, and literary luminaries like Elizabeth Gilbert and Anne Rice shared it on social media. That’s when the author decided to write a book that examined the divide between so-called serious fiction writers and those who write fluffier works. Library Journal says of the novel, “What seems at first to be a frothy rom-com of mistaken identity set in the world of publishing is actually a multilayered character study of opposites finding common ground.”
Gillespie’s book launch will be at the Midtown Market on Kings Way, Nov. 3 from 5 to 8 p.m.
O Christmas Trees!
The Clarks Hill Christmas Tree Farm has been helping families find that perfect tree since 1983. This family owned and operated business is located near Clarks Hill, S.C., in McCormick County. Wander through 50 acres of beautiful Christmas trees until you spot “the one,” be it a Leyland cypress, Deodar cedar, red cedar, Carolina sapphire, Virginia pine, White Pine or Clemson greenspire.
A trip to the farm offers not only this year’s Tannenbaum, but wreaths, garland, table centerpieces, mailbox swags and more. Bring the whole family and enjoy hayrides, farm tours and on the weekends you can purchase hot chocolate, cider, boiled peanuts and more.
Tree sales begin the day after Thanksgiving. Hours are 2 to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. on Saturday and 1 to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Clarks Hill Christmas Tree Farm
39 Bennie Dorn Rd., Clarks Hill S.C.
This article appears in the November-December 2016 issue of Augusta Magazine.