AFTER 20 years of clogging, hoofing, stomping and stepping, Eileen Carson is more passionate than ever about the power of percussive dance.
"I've never gotten over it, the joy of it and the power of it," says Carson, founder and director of Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble. "It's transformational. . . . It's always been a big thing for us to share it and get people dancing." Carson's Crownsville group, which started in 1979 as the Fiddle Puppet Dancers, has done just that for a long time running: The troupe will celebrate its two-decade mark Friday with a sold-out "mini-festival" of dance and music. On view will also be such guest artists as legendary tapper La Vaughn Robinson, local group Step Afrika! and Irish stepdancer Liam Harney.
Carson's simple formula -- show it, teach it and get folks moving -- has allowed Footworks to build a steady following over the years, to the point at which the group is rarely seen on local stages. The half-dozen dancers and three musicians tour most of the year, performing in theaters, at festivals and in schools across the country.
Attaining longevity in the arts is never an easy thing, least of all when you're specializing in traditional folk art, a realm that has long sought respect and rarely found it. A native of Tennessee, Carson started out as a clogger and gradually added to her repertoire dance and music from throughout the Appalachian Mountains. Her troupe went on to incorporate all types of traditional percussive dance from around the world, such as South African gumboot dancing and step dancing from England, Ireland and Scotland. In 1996, Footworks performed as guests in the original London run of "Riverdance."
Bringing folk art to the concert stage has been a lasting quest and a constant thrill. But most of all, Carson says she enjoys breaking down that fourth wall to get audiences to move to some of the same rhythms that inspire her and her dancers.
"We live up to the idea that everyone can enjoy dancing and enjoy making rhythm with each other," Carson says. "It's not based on talent. These are simple rhythms meant for people to share. There's a lot of power in that."
FOOTWORKS PERCUSSIVE DANCE ENSEMBLE -- 20th Anniversary Showcase, Friday at 8 p.m. at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis. Call 301/261-1553.