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What is clogging?

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Clogging is a type of folk dance practiced in the United States, in which the dancer’s footwear is used by striking the heel, the toe, or both against a floor or each other to create audible rhythms, usually to the downbeat with the heel keeping the rhythm. Clogging is a truly American dance form that began in the Appalachian Mountains and now enjoys widespread popularity throughout the United States and around the world.

As the Appalachians were settled in the mid 1700’s by the Irish, Scottish, English and Dutch-Germans, the folk dances of each area met and began to combine in an impromptu foot-tapping style, the beginning of clog dancing as we know it today. Accompanied by rousing fiddle and bluegrass music, clogging was a means of personal expression in a land of newfound freedoms.

The word “Clog” comes from the Gaelic, and means “time”. Clogging is a dance that is done in time with the music -to the downbeat usually with the heel keeping rhythm.

As clogging made its way to the flatlands, other influences shaped it. From the Cherokee Indians, to African Blacks and Russian Gypsies, clogging has enveloped many different traditions to become truly a “melting pot” of step dances.
For the most part, clogging evolved as an individual form of expression, with a person using his feet as an instrument to make rhythmic and percussive sounds to accompany the music. At the turn of the century, many cloggers began to add this developing step dance to the square dances that had been enjoyed in their communities for decades. One of clog dancing’s most renowned founders, Bascom Lamar Lunsford of Asheville, North Carolina, helped to popularise the art of team clogging by adding it as a category of competition in the annual Mountain Dance and Folk Festival held in Asheville during the late 1920’s. A group called the Soco Gap Cloggers won the competition with a routine featuring precision mountain figures accompanied by freestyle step dancing. The Soco Gap Dancers became well known for their energetic style. In a performance for the Queen of England, it is reported that her majesty remarked at the footwork as very much like “Clogging” in her country. The term stuck, and the media used the term in documenting the performance.   The step dance emerging from the Southern Mountains became known as “clog dancing”.

The dance style has recently fused with others including African-American rhythms, and the Peruvian dance “zapateo” (which may in itself be derived from early European clog dances), resulting in the birth of newer street dances, such as tap, locking, hakken, stomping, and Gangsta Walking. The use of wooden-soled clogs is rarer in the more modern dances since clog shoes are not commonly worn in urban society, and other types of footwear have replaced them in their evolved dance forms. Clogging is often considered the first form of street dance because it evolved in urban environments during the industrial revolution.

In later periods it was not always called “clogging”, being known variously as foot-stomping, buck dancing, clog dancing, jigging, or other local terms. What all these had in common was emphasizing the downbeat of the music by enthusiastic footwork. As for the shoes, many old clogging shoes had no taps and some were made of leather and velvet, while the soles of the shoes were either wooden or hard leather.

Clogging can be divided into five major categories: 1) shuffle clogging, 2) cadence clogging, 3) rhythm clogging, 4) stomp clogging, and 5) buck-dancing.

The shuffle clogging style is said to be the most popular style for bluegrass music cloggers while rhythm and stomp clogging are more popular with old-time music cloggers. What sets clogging apart from other dance styles such as tap-dancing is the lack of upper body movement used during performance like Irish Sean-nós dance which had significant influence on the origins of the dance. While tap dancers place emphasis on stage presence and arm movements, cloggers limit their upper body movement, focusing primarily on their feet.