Clogging: The Ultimate Appalachian Dance

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PHOTO: Cloggers in Georgia, Sept. 1975. Stephenson, Al, Photographer, EPA.
PHOTO: Cloggers in Georgia, Sept. 1975. Stephenson, Al, Photographer, EPA.

The fifty US states have some quirky and odd official symbols and items: Since 1965 Ohio’s official state beverage has been tomato juice, Hawaii’s official state fish is the humuhumunukunukuapua`a, and New Mexico’s official “State Question” (yes, that’s apparently a thing), is “Red or Green?”

Not to be outdone, the mountainous states of Kentucky and North Carolina both share official state dances, the Appalachian foot-stomping practice known simply as clogging.

Serving as a social dance in the American mountains as early as the 1700s, clogging originally enjoyed several names, including foot-stomping, buck dancing, clog dancing and jigging; however, the fast-paced practice of rhythmically tapping and stomping one’s foot against a loud service in order to create a beat would eventually become known around the globe as clogging.

Dating back to the 1500s in Wales and England, clogging originated when shoes were first outfitted with a one-piece wooden bottom and a leather upper which the dancer could use to establish various musical beats as they danced.

In the years that followed, a more conventional leather shoe with separate wooden pieces on the heel and toe called “flats” became popular and it is from this that the terms “heel and toe” and “flatfooting” are derived.

As the descendants of the first cloggers left Europe in search for brighter futures in the New World, they brought with them their clogs and found a safe refuge in the mountains of Appalachia, where a new form of music was in the process of emerging: Bluegrass, first known as “Old Time Music”.

Like the mountainous people who created this musical genre, bluegrass is the result of multiple cultures being woven together, combining instruments borrowed from peoples from several corners of the globe: The banjo design was brought over by African slaves, while the guitar was borrowed from the Spanish, and the mandolin, fiddle and acoustic bass all come from Italy.

Placed in the hands of qualified musicians, these instruments harmonize to create the song of the mountains and like the music it is most often paired with, Appalachian clogging developed thanks to aspects of Irish, English, Scottish, German and Cherokee step dances, as well as African rhythms and movement.

From these early mountain dances would evolve a variety of new dances, including tap dance.

Traditional Appalachian clogging is characterized by loose, often bent knees and a “drag-slide” motion of the foot across the floor, and is usually performed to old-time music.

In 1928, the world’s first team clogging event was held as square dance teams competed in Asheville, in North Carolina’s Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. The sport has grown from a regional pastime into an internationally acclaimed sport and many clogging teams now compete against other teams for prize money.

Like articles like this? Then you would love Appalachian Magazine’s Mountain Superstitions, Ghost Stories & Haint Tales: A Collection of Memories & Commentaries from the Mountains of Appalachia!  Click here to check out the book on Amazon!

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