The Origins of Clogging

Clog Dancing probably had it's roots in the traditional fancy steps of Irish, Scotch and English immigrants who settled in the Appalachian Mountains. One historian has suggested that the dance originated in the mill towns in England... where workers - who commonly wore stout wooden-soled shoes - would go out into the cobblestone streets during their lunch breaks and hold impromptu dancing contests.

The steps developed by those factory laborers - along with the hornpipes, jigs and reels of the Anglo-saxon cultures - were then influenced in the new world by the heel-and-toe- accented rhythms of the cherokee ceremonial dances and the routines performed by blacks in minstrel and medicine shows.  It's out of this synthesis, many people believe, that "buck and wing" or "buck" dancing was born.

Performed by one person, usually to the plaintive strains of mountain fiddle music, buck dancing features close-to-the-ground lateral foot movement, with the torso held fairly stationary. (In fact, some of the old-time buck dancers prided themselves on their ability to "go it" with water-filled teacups balanced on their heads).

Modern clogging resulted - the theory goes - from a combination of buck dancing and square dancing. It often incorporates traditional square dancing figures, performed to the quick tempo of bluegrass, but features a heavier beat and more emphasis on the rhythmic use of the heel than does buck dancing.

While authorities still debate about the origins of both buck dancing and clogging, one fact does seem pretty sure: clog team dancing originated in western North Carolina. The late Sam Queen - who is regarded as the father of team clogging formed the Soco Gap Dancers in the 1920's and that act was among the first to take the Appalachian art out of the mountains and introduce it to a wider pubic.

As a logical consequence of the formation of dance groups came team competition ... the first such event occurred in 1927, on the Asheville town square, when five different clubs vied for Honors. (Ever since that time, clogging competition has been included in the annual Asheville Mountain dance and Folk Festival, the oldest gathering of its type in the Nation).

However, during the early days when these teams were assembling Mountain Hoofers still referred to their style of dancing as 'Buck Dancing'. 'Flatfooting' or 'Square Dancing'. It wasn't until a number of years later that the pastime and the name by which we know it got together.

In 1939 the Soco Gap Dancers - along with the coon creek girls from Pinchen Tight, Kentucky were invited by President Roosevelt to perform at the White House while the King and Queen of England were visiting, Queen Elizabeth (The Present monarch's Mother) who, it is reported, tapped her foot eagerly during the exhibition - remarked 'why , that is just like our clogging ... and the name is still applied to the Dance style that Sam Queen's Group made famous.

Reprinted from "The Mother Earth News"  September/October 1961

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