Clog Dancing

Clog dancing, a mysterious affliction characterized by an uncontrollable desire to spend hours dancing energetically to bluegrass music, is filtering out of the western North Carolina mountains.

| September/October 1981

It's hard to say exactly when it happened, but a number of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' staffers have gone and got themselves bitten by the clog dancing bug. The whole thing may have started when we admired the Southern Appalachian Cloggers in action at our seminars last year. But then, it may also have been prompted by a wistful desire to join in on the action at Bill Stanley's, a bluegrass-and-barbecue spot in nearby Asheville, North Carolina. At any rate, by the time the annual Mountain Youth Folk Festival rolled around this spring—and the Asheville Civic Center was packed with petticoat-layered and denim-clad youngsters dancing their hearts out—our crew was distinctly envious. We had clogging fever.

Well, it wasn't long before some of us decided to look further into the history of the old-time Appalachian dance form and to learn a few steps (Which we'll pass on to you later). After all, clogging's fun, it's sociable, it's downright lively, and almost anyone can learn how to do it. In fact, we'll almost stake the ranch that—by the time you finish reading this armchair guide to clogging—you'll be itching to put your feet to the test.

The Origins of Clogging

Clog dancing probably had its roots in the traditional fancy steps of the Irish, Scotch, and English immigrants who settled in the Appalachian Mountains. One historian has suggested that the dance originated in the mill towns of England, where workers—who commonly wore stout wooden-soled shoes would go out into the cobblestone streets during their lunch breaks and hold impromptu dancing contests.

The steps developed by those factory laborers—along with the hornpipes, jigs, and reels of the Anglo-Saxon cultures—were then influenced, in the New World, by the heel-and-toe-accented rhythms of Cherokee dances and the routines performed by blacks in minstrel and medicine shows. It's out of this synthesis, many people believe, that "buck and wing" or "buck" dancing was born.

Performed by one person, usually to the plaintive strains of mountain fiddle music, buck dancing features close-to-the-ground lateral foot movement, with the torso held fairly stationary. (In fact, some of the old-time buck dancers prided themselves on their ability to "go it" with water-filled teacups balanced on their heads.)

Modern clogging resulted—the theory goes—from a combination of buck dancing and square dancing. It often incorporates traditional square dance figures, performed to the quick tempo of bluegrass, but features a heavier beat and more emphasis on the rhythmic use of the heel than does buck dancing.

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