Appalachia’s ambassadors: Cloggers share local culture during Folkmoot festival
When Shirley Finger was younger, she never did too much clogging. Or dancing of any kind, really.
“Back when I was growing up you didn’t go to a dance, that was the Devil’s place,” recalled Finger. “But when I got married my husband was on a dance team and I just fell in love with it.”
Finger fell in love with clogging. She has since enjoyed spreading the gospel of clogging with the Waynesville-based Dixie Darlin’s.
“You just watch and get the basic beat and then you add your own steps,” explained Finger, who serves as the dance team’s director. “We’ve got one guy, they call him Crazy Legs — I end up watching him every single time.”
The Dixie Darlin’s is but one of the clogging teams serving as Appalachia’s ambassadors during this year’s Folkmoot USA festival. As teams of visiting dancers and musicians arrive to represent their respective cultures during the festival, cloggers and bluegrass musicians will provide a bit of local flavor.
“First thing they want to know is what do you have on your feet,” Finger said of the foreign teams’ curiosity about the click-and-clack of the cloggers’ shoes. “Everybody wants to see your shoes.”
According to Folkmoot Executive Director Karen Babcock, the festival fosters an environment in which participants both teach and learn. Just as the visiting international teams will be sharing their own cultures, they will also be learning about Appalachia’s local culture.
“The international dance troupes and musicians of Folkmoot will take their experiences home and thus help preserve our local cultures,” Babcock explained. “Many will learn the dances and songs of Appalachia and perform them for others around the world. Education is a huge part of the Folkmoot experience, and the entertainment aspect makes it pure fun.”
Clogging has long been a cultural mainstay in Western North Carolina. The dancing style has been featured at Folkmoot in the past, but festival organizers recently decided to incorporate clogging permanently.
“We made a conscious decision to make it a permanent part of the festival starting with our 30th anniversary in 2013,” Babcock said.
That makes a lot of sense to Finger. It seems natural that visiting cultural troupes would want to immerse themselves in the local offerings.
“Don’t you think they should see what we do?” Finger said.
It’s the same spirit of sharing that local dancers appreciate when they travel to cultural events abroad. Dancing, it seems, effortlessly crosses cultural divides.
“Dancing is a worldwide language,” said Keith Silvers, of Waynesville’s Southern Appalachian Cloggers. “We’ve danced in countries where we couldn’t speak the language, but everybody comes together when dancing.”
The clogging groups featured at this year’s Folkmoot have deep roots. The groups have been around for decades, with some original members still dancing. They take their sport seriously.
“God first, your family second, your job third, then you come out and dance,” said Finger.
The featured clogging groups have entertained on international stages. They have performed for presidents — Jimmy Carter and both Bushes — and partied with Charlie Daniels.
The groups also each focus on their own preferred style of clogging. The Southern Appalachian Cloggers enjoy freestyle, while The Green Grass Cloggers from Asheville lean toward precision stepping and western square-dance.
“We go out, we do a routine and we go off,” explained Green Grass’s Trina Royar. “Our routines are about three minutes long, fast and short.”
The Green Grass Cloggers’ style is more concise than, say, that of the Dixie Darlin’s.
“Just cut up and play off each other,” Finger described of her group’s looser approach.
But regardless of style, all the clogging teams have the same mission: to share the culture of Appalachia with both visiting cultural troupes and Folkmoot attendees.
“As one of the most important expressions of Appalachian culture, both clogging and bluegrass music represent our culture to the hundreds of international performers we host each year and to thousands of festival visitors from outside Western North Carolina,” Babcock said.
It’s a mission that the cloggers hold dear. And a tradition that they have helped nurture for decades.
“I grew up doing it,” said Silvers, recalling rollicking times at the Maggie Valley Playhouse. “Man, it would be packed every Friday and Saturday night.”
Silvers grew up, and continues, clogging a bit differently than most. When anyone asks to check out his shoes, they’ll discover he is forgoing wearing taps on his soles.
“I just grew up dancing without’em, and that’s they way I like it,” Silvers said. “I have a hard enough kick that you can hear me.”
Clogging performances at Folkmoot
Clogging teams and bluegrass musicians, representing the local culture of Appalachia, will be performing throughout this year’s Folkmoot festival. Each team will be accompanied by live musicians.
• The Southern Appalachian Cloggers will dance at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 25, at the Stompin’ Grounds in Maggie Valley.
• The Jonathan Creek Cloggers dance at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, July 26, at the Parade of Nations on Main Street in Waynesville.
• The Dixie Darlin’s dance at 7:30 p.m., July 26, at Haywood Community College in Clyde.
• The Green Grass Cloggers dance at 7 p.m., July 27, at Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska.