HISTORY OF CLOGGING
What is CLOGGING? It’s a kind of historically developed folk-dance incorporating additional tap-dancing steps as a special feature. In order to emphasize the rhythm of the steps, the dancers wear shoes that are stud with iron taps on both heels and toes. Initially, CLOGGING was danced in wooden shoes (clogs, that’s where the name originates) or barefoot and back in those times it was the dance of the ordinary people. That’s how CLOGGING could be described in short, but in fact its real history is a lot longer.
A real folk-dance or a folk-song is something that is passed on from generation to generation, from one man to another through word or performance, without ever being written down.
The name CLOGGING itself gives a clue on the origin of the dance. That a CLOG is a wooden shoe points out that the original dance was performed in wooden shoes. In the very first years of the eighteenth century, pioneers from England, Germany, Holland and Ireland started settling in the Appalachian territories of the USA. Cut off from the rest of the world, they lived in their self-chosen isolation, barely affected by the progressing civilization outside. The result was a lack of contact to other people and the influence of foreign languages and habits was reduced to a minimum. They became natives of the early America. Their songs and dances didn’t change for decades due to the lack of influence from the outside and today we know those dances as CLOGGING, although the original name was CLOG-dance. This dance was particularly shaped by the Scottish Highland Dances and the Irish Jig. In exactly the same way, German, Negro and Indian dance elements were taken and as time went by, those elements and dances merged into the so-called Flatfoot-Dancing. It is this mixing process as well, that makes the story of CLOGGING so hard to understand. Nobody can tell for sure where the original dance with wooden shoes came from and what the original form of performance was like. CLOGGING represents a bridge between various immigrated cultures.
Through the huge interest in the American history that emerged in the late fifties and early sixties, Clog-Dancing experienced a huge revival. In those years, folk-groups like the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary created the awareness for a great heritage. With this new interest in folk music, the popularity of folk dancing naturally started growing again as well. Visitors participating in folk festivals in the Appalachians territories got aware of a – in some parts still - native dance, Clog Dance, and this is where the “new” history of CLOGGING starts. A still lasting revival
“Music passes away, if it isn’t captured in ones memory, ‘cause you cannot write it down.” This is a saying of the bishop of Sevilla, a famous scholar from the early Christianity. It wasn’t possible to write down music until the end of the Middle Ages, but then, it made dance develop enormously. Music is an art in time, opposed to the sculpture art, which is an art in space. And dance, yes, dance is an art of the body and is the easiest of all those arts in terms of learning it. Why? For humans, dance is one of the most natural ways of expression, because he can portray mental processes with physical movements. Since earliest mankind, many events of life have been captured by dances. The diverse forms of dance have very different meanings with the most distinctive one being the devotion to myths. But the most important form was and still is the community dance as it always showed the people’s zest for living, even in the old times. In its beginnings, CLOGGING was a dance of stomping feet, clapping hands and without fixed rules for dancing. But today, after Clog Dance became our CLOGGING, it experiences an incredible boost in popularity. Out of the isolation it blends into almost every other form of modern dance.
After world war two was over, there were only a few traditional clog-dancers left. One of them was Bascom Lamar Lunceford. He was born in Mars Hill, North Carolina in 1882 and known as the “Minstrel of the Appalachians”. He died in 1973 and left a large repertoire of stories, songs and dances. He was a teacher, singer, dancer and a real “Mountaineer”. He also published texts about an American folk-dance that was established firmly everywhere in the States at that time – Square Dance. To write about Square Dance here would probably be beyond the scope of this report, nevertheless, the connection between Clogging and Square-Dance should be mentioned. The roots of Square-Dance can be traced back to around 1450 and are of course based in Europe as well. It is shown in various publications on SD that you can find traces of all European dances in Square-Dance. Around the year 1700, it was the time of the Appalachian Big Circle or Mountain Hoedown formations, that were based on the same background and already featured a lead dancer calling out the figures.
Meanwhile CLOGGING spread from the Appalachians (a mountain chain in eastern USA from central Alabama to Maine) throughout the States
In the 50th and 60th the interest in folk music began to prosper worldwide witch also included traditional dance forms. On festivals musicians and dancers met and naturally the traditional CLOGGING was a part of it. This dance and music movement also arrived at Europe in the 80th. And that’s how the Americans brought this step dance, that got more and more popular, “back” to Europe.
Traditionally CLOGGING had no breaks in a beat, no turns nor high kicks. And the steps were always new freely combined to the music by each dancer individually. But by the time the dance form changed and became a modern image. Now we find elements like turns and jumps, arm and had movements as influences from Jazz Dance, Ballroom dancing and even from Acrobatics. And the progress didn’t stop until today. New influences and dancing stiles became visible in CLOGGING as we know it today. Depending on the stile of a specific time period this has been Canadian Step Dance, Street dancing, Hip Hop as well as Irish dance.
You can distinguish “Freestyle-“ and “Precision-“ Clogging. Doing Freestyle each dancer dances by himself as much as his condition, feeling for the music and form of expression makes him want to dance. Doing Precision the steps, combinations and movements will be done by all dances in the same order at the same time. Well liked fixed choreographies are written to a certain song.
Traditionally the dance was done to Blue Grass and Country & Western music, but by now the repertoire goes from Rock, Pop to Techno and back to Irish Folk (Riverdance gives his regards!). Mostly you dance as a single person, often in lines, but there are also dances with partner (Duetts) and even group formations.
In most European countries there are no competitions as a difference to the US. Therefore, at the organized festivals and conventions here, you dance “Just for FUN”, to learn new steps, songs and techniques and o meet old and new friends.
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