Host David Thurmond tells how clogging came to America and how shoes with taps evolved. He tells students to note that the dancing emphasizes movements below the waist and to look for movements that resemble square dancing. Champion cloggers Stacy McWethy, Trevor DeWitt, Cristy Corwin, and Zach Davis show off their skills to music by Hog Operation.
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The traditional Appalachian dances are clogging (with its variants of flatfooting and buck dancing), mountain square dances, and play party games. Traditionally they are all recreational, social dances, although today clogging is often performed as an artistic or competitive dance.
In the isolated homesteads and villages of the Appalachians, dances were the major social activity, usually enjoyed by entire families. Often the dances revolved around planting, harvesting, or barn raising, when communities shared the work followed by a dance. Communal celebrations like weddings were another occasion for dances, and often young people just liked to gather at someone’s home on a Saturday night to enjoy dancing spiced with a little courtship under the supervisory eyes of the adults.
Clogging, like tap and jazz dance, is a uniquely American dance form. It incorporates elements of Irish jig, English step dancing, and African rhythms and high-kicking steps. It is highly unusual because it has also been influenced by Native American dance, specifically the Cherokee stomp dance. The Appalachian Mountains were one of the few places where there was an intertwining of the native culture and the culture of the early settlers, including intermarriages. When the Cherokee were forcibly removed from North Carolina and marched to Oklahoma, they crossed Kentucky, and some Cherokees escaped en route and fled to the mountains, where they blended into the Appalachian culture, increasing the cultural influence begun in the days of early settlement.
This type of dance wasn’t called clogging until 1939, when the Saco Gap Dancers performed for the king and queen of England at the White House. The queen commented that it reminded her of a dance still performed in the north of England by dancers wearing heavy wooden shoes, or clogs.
A highly energetic percussive dance, clogging is characterized by fast footwork and virtually motionless torsos. It can be done as a solo dance, as a couple dance, or as a group dance. Sometimes dancers use clogging steps while performing square dances. There are lots of variations on the dance, and in the past, there were different steps from one hollow to the next. Most cloggers today wear shoes with taps, but clogging can be done in any shoes or even barefoot. In the past, clogging was almost always done to brisk banjo picking, but today cloggers dance to many styles of music.
The term flatfooting is sometimes used as another name for clogging, but some see the two distinctly different from each other. Clogging tends to be more structured while flatfooting is more freeform. Flatfooters don’t hop or spring as cloggers sometimes do. Buck dancing makes more use of the heel and toe than the shuffle step common to clogging. And buck dancing is done with bent knees.
Whatever you call it, clogging is great fun and great exercise.
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