Clogging Goes a Step Further

Dancers young and old participate in a clogging workshop sponsored by the Bull Run Cloggers last weekend at a school in Haymarket.
Dancers young and old participate in a clogging workshop sponsored by the Bull Run Cloggers last weekend at a school in Haymarket. (Photos By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Arianne Aryanpur
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 2, 2006

The tapping of clogs on Brazilian cherry wood resonated through the 200-year-old converted barn on a recent evening. Cloggers, some wearing overalls and bandanas, gathered in a circle, tightly gripping hands. As the music sped up, so did the din and the dance -- a combination of quick foot movements, claps and smiles.

Lured by the energy and camaraderie of a traditional folk dance, singles and parents, and children as well, come twice a week to Waterford to dance with the Blue Ridge Thunder Cloggers.

The performing group has about two dozen members, but about 30 other enthusiasts clog for fun -- sometimes driving as far as 140 miles weekly for classes in the barn studio. Pat Hayes, a performer, looks forward to dancing after a day developing software in Fairfax County. "It's great exercise," he said.

Clogging is done by quickly striking the floor with a shoe with two taps, timing it to the downbeat of the music. Performers' costumes run the gamut from traditional petticoats to brightly colored unitards.

"It's like the Appalachian cousin of 'Riverdance,' " said Joyce Guthrie, president of the Thunder Cloggers.

Clogging indeed began in the Appalachian Mountains, where, before the introduction of modern clogs, people tacked bottle caps and nails to the toes and heels of their shoes and danced to the banjo and fiddle.

Today, though, it is also a melting pot of Irish, black American and Native American dances. Cloggers often travel to keep the centuries-old tradition alive, Guthrie said, and enthusiasts claim a growing popularity as it integrates into the mainstream.

The Thunder Cloggers perform about twice a month at local schools, festivals and private engagements. They returned about a month ago from their first trip to Ireland, where dancers performed at a fair and shared techniques with an Irish step-dancing troupe.

Clogging remains popular at bluegrass festivals, but younger dancers often integrate such popular elements as jazz and hip-hop into their routines, said Steve Smith, a Kentucky clogger who taught at a regional workshop last month in Haymarket.

More than 300 dancers -- from as far as Pennsylvania and Kentucky -- gathered for a day of instruction from nationally renowned clogging teachers.

In a packed school auditorium, children and adults, including senior citizens, lined up in rows. Between routines, dancers shared steps while others sipped from water bottles, trying to cool down.

"Double step, double over, double step, double over," the teacher repeated into a microphone over the thumping bass of popular music. The explosion of tapping feet echoed through the hallway.

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