Conner captures "Shagging with the Stars' titleby Mona Prufer
It's Monday morning, and Debbie Conner is "holding court" in her Singleton office on a recent Monday morning, accepting congratulations from just about everyone who enters the building. As the female winner of "Shagging with the Stars," she is the celebrity of the moment. And she has a trophy to prove it.
Conner, who is vice president of student affairs at Coastal Carolina University, won the 7th annual shag contest held at the Spanish Galleon last weekend.
The fundraiser competition for the National Shag Dance Competition pairs an amateur with a professional, sort of like ABC's wildly popular "Dancing with the Stars." Conner danced with River Harmon, a 16-year-old student at Myrtle Beach High School, who is a junior shag competitor and five-year champion.
The judges' vote on the 10 couples' performances counts for two-thirds of each couple's score. Then the audience cheers for its favorite, which counts for the final one-third of the score.
"Debbie was clearly the audience favorite," said Poppy Hepp and Kathy Watts, both CCU administrative assistants who attended the competition to cheer her on.
When shag promoter Barry Thigpen came calling last August, lining up local talent for the fundraiser, Conner agreed to enter the contest because she's always wanted to learn to shag. "We started practicing once a week in November, then we stepped up our practice schedule as it got closer," says Conner. "I'm a quick learner, and I love learning new things. And it was a great workout."
Though they were only permitted 12 hours of practice time a week (as per the rules), Conner and her young instructor went to Fat Harold's to get some "social dance" practice in – in front of an audience.
"We'd go in the mid-afternoon on weekends when no one was there, but while we were dancing, people would come in and start watching us, as if I knew what I was doing!"
To get in extra practice, Conner would tie a string to the doorknob at home and practice the steps by herself.
Conner, who is no newcomer to public event participation, says she was visibly nervous the afternoon of the competition. "I was shaking in my shoes," says the tennis-playing, former competitive ice skater of six years who believes in the motto "In it to win it."
Probably the most meaningful compliment Conner has received came from her 18-year-old daughter Kayla, who told her mom she "had some cool moves." And if that wasn't enough, husband Tracy took her first-place trophy with the star and the shagger and put it next to his golf trophy on the mantel. (Debbie's is bigger, she reports.)
Conner and her teacher, a high school sophomore, have become fast friends. "He loves Coastal," she says. "He plans to come here, and he has a dog named Teal!"
They also wore teal-coordinated outfits on the dance floor—Conner in a sequined teal top, and Harmon in a teal sweater vest with teal bow tie.