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Traditional Dance - Appalachian Clogging (Stepping)

A how-to-do-it tutorial by Rosie Davis

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Appalachian Stepping

This tutorial comes from Rosie's 2001 book "Karaoke Clogging" which also had an accompanying cassette containing the tracks mentioned. I am unable to provide copies of the original music (See appendix for tune list.) but suitable substitutes are available on the Just the Tune Series by Rick Townend.

Step dancing is basically elaborate walking or skipping or foot-tapping. One foot after the other - it should flow and be a visual as well as audible expression of the music.

Traditional dance is very direct, it celebrates what the dancer brings to it from life - i.e. flexibility and ease of movement from picking crops, stamina built up by long hours of physical work, quickness of foot developed by log rolling and needed for bare knuckle fighting, and in its turn it develops social skills needed for life within a community -developing etiquette, team building, family bonding, ceremonial, martial arts and enjoyment of life. The people who settled in the Southern Appalachian Mountains had need of all of this and more. These settlers were in part runaways from plantations, youngsters originally from orphanages in overcrowded cities such as Liverpool, Glasgow and Manchester taken to the New World and forced to work their passage in cotton fields as unpaid labour. Often very isolated, they needed to find a way through, and developed a very different outlook and culture from - say - New England, where whole communities arrived from England bringing willing* people with a good level and mix of skills.

People from many different cultures found themselves in the Southern Appalachian area and the "Clogging" is thought to have influences from Scottish, Irish, English, Other European, African and Native American Indian dance. The name "Clogging is rumoured to have been adopted as a result of a comment made by a certain Queen of England that the dancing reminded her of "English Clog Dancing".

Square dancing in Southern Appalachia celebrates community, invention and diversity and starts with partners in one big circle. The dancers follow a caller through some Big Circle figures and then on the cue "odds in evens out" the dancers form circles of four and dance the next figure called. This often ends with "swing your opposite then swing your own" and the odd couples having swung the opposite person, swing together and progress to the next even couple in the circle, circle left and wait for the next figure to be called. The dance ends with more Big Circle Figures, however at any time during the Big Circle Figures the caller might call for Buck Dancers, this call invites the dancers to show off their fancy steps in the middle of the circle until the figures are called again.

The dancers clog during the whole of the dance using Basics (sometimes called Doubles), Singles and Alamos, which together make a continuous Tick - a - tock sound. Fancy high stepping is considered rude, except in Buck Dancing sessions but then - well - anything goes.

Groups have got together to compete at festivals and over the years many forms of the dance have developed and many combinations of steps have been invented, often these combinations of steps are named after the person who invented them such as Pearl or Eddie. Most of the groups of Appalachian Cloggers in Britain today dance as demonstration teams but there are also some people who like to Buck Dance, throwing a piece of wood onto the ground and beating out rhythms with a group of musicians who are jamming Old Timey dance tunes.

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