Clogging: North Carolina’s Official Folk Dance

Written By Jane Shaw Stroup

Clogging is the official folk dance of North Carolina (declared so by the state legislature in 2005).[1] It is a style of dancing that originated in the Appalachian mountains, so North Carolina shares it with other states such as Tennessse and Virginia. All clog dancing involves “fancy footwork”—there are many variations on stepping, shuffling, sidestepping, kicking, even jumping to the music. Cloggers can dance individually or in groups, in square-dance form, or line-dance form. They are accompanied by a blue-grass or “old-time” string band composed of banjos, guitars, and fiddles.

The Roots of Clogging

The roots of clog dancing go back to the British Isles, where wooden clogs were used in the 1400s! However, many strains of dancing shaped today’s clogging. “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,” wrote Joe Driggs, former editor of the Double Toe Times Clogging Magazine.[2]

Clogging is “percussive” dancing—with sudden and sharp steps that sometimes add a drum-like beat to the music. But in flatfoot buck dancing, a form of clogging, the steps are often softer and more subtle and the dance is almost always solo.

“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,” writes Driggs. “At the turn of the [20th] century, many cloggers began to add this developing step dance to the square dances that had been enjoyed in their communities for decades.”

A New Era for Clogging

Beginning in 1928 a new era opened up. The city of Asheville, North Carolina, decided to have a Rhododendron Festival. To add interest, the organizers invited Bascom Lamar Lunsford to hold a one-day “Music and Dance Festival.” Lunsford was a folk song collector who feared that traditional music and dances were fading away. He brought in a number of square dance groups. But very quickly—the festival continued for years—the dancers began adding their own styles of footwork.

As Phil Jamison explains it: “Although Lunsford’s original intent had been to promote and preserve the mountain square dances, by putting teams of dancers on stage in competition, he inadvertently changed the tradition and created a new one.“[3] Essentially, the competitions spurred a new clogging style.

“This new, synchronized style of clogging, which was a departure from earlier freestyle clogging, became known as ‘precision clogging,’” says Jamison.[4]

In a master’s thesis on competitive group clogging, Ian Kirkpatrick divided modern clogging into three styles: “1) Freestyle clogging, loosely defined as a square dance with non-synchronized percussive footwork, 2) Traditional Precision clogging, incorporating the Traditional drag-slide movement in a square dance or line dance style with synchronized footwork, and 3) Contemporary Precision clogging, incorporating other modern dance forms into a percussive step dance in the line dance style with synchronized footwork.”[5]

To get a better idea of the differences between “old-time” flatfoot buck dancing and the more stylized group clogging, see Jennie Terman’s essay written to honor buck dancer Tom Maupin.[6]  And to get a feeling for this complicated, intricate, dancing heritage, there is nothing like a video. Have a look at this: