Clogging gains interest in Ky for stress relief and exercise
People all over the state of Kentucky enjoy clogging. The dance has been called affordable family fun by some dancers. Others call it, great exercise, that helps relieve stress.
It’s Tuesday evening in Williamstown. That’s where 83- year-old Wanda McClurg is dancing with the Hills of Kentucky Cloggers at the American Legion Hall.
Wearing white laced-up clogging shoes and a hot pink t-shirt sporting the dance group’s name, McClurg’s feet move quickly in time to the music along with 15 other dancers. The red-head octogenarian has been clogging for nearly 40 years.
”I don’t let anything interfere with my clogging on Tuesday night. No matter what, I will go to my class on Tuesday night. I have missed if there’s something really special going on at church, I may miss but Tuesday night is my night to clog," said McClurg.
The Hills of Kentucky Cloggers led by Instructor Fonda Hill-Harkleroad, are returning from their 6- week holiday break. Fonda is Wanda McClurg’s niece. She’s been the director of the dance group since 1991. Her classes held in Williamstown and Ludlow include students from ages five to 83. Fonda and her Aunt Wanda agree, the Appalachian folk dance is great exercise and isn’t difficult but it takes consistent practice. Fonda says beginners start with eight basic steps.
“You have to start at the basic level and it doesn’t matter if you have two left feet because most of our dances start on the left foot so maybe you’re ahead of the game there. We’ll take several months to give you the basic steps," reported Fonda.
Over the years Fonda’s classes have competed and been featured on broadcast tv but now they mostly enjoy performing at holiday events in Williamstown and festivals like the Appalachian Festival in Cincinnati. She said one of their all-time favorite places to perform is the Kentucky Wool Festival in Falmouth.
“They come to see us. When we show up there those benches are full. They are there to watch us and we have been doing that our whole thirty-plus years of having the clogging team," explained Fonda.
In 2006 Kentucky designated clogging as its official state dance. On this night, several families are learning in the beginner class. Meggy Cooper is clogging while carrying her baby on a front pack and holding the hand of one of her daughters. She brought five of her six kids to the class. Cooper says clog dancing is affordable, family fun, and great exercise.
“It is Kentucky. It’s our state dance and it’s our heritage. I love it. And it’s a skill set that not a lot of kids have nowadays and I get to do it with them while having a baby attached to myself,” exclaimed Cooper.
The National Clogging Organization based in Georgia serves 23 thousand cloggers worldwide. That’s according to executive director Susan Phillips. She said the dance has been featured recently at the Country Music Awards and on reality shows like America’s Got Talent.
“It has plateaued to a good mix of recreational and competitive clogging in Kentucky and the media exposure has recently increased the popularity of it,” reported Phillips.
A variety of songs can be used as music for clogging and for some instructors the music is prerecorded. But Lexington musician, activist, and clogging instructor, Carla Gover frequently has her cousin Art Mize accompany her on his fiddle while Gover teaches the dance to classes online
“I do a lot of solo and improv dancing and it’s more focused on the sounds that I’m making and the way that I’m accompanied and having a dialogue with the music rather than the way my body looks or the outfit I’m wearing or the super precision steps that I’m doing,” said Gover.
In western Kentucky, Barry Lanham is a clogging instructor with the Footstompin’ Express Dance Troupe. Lanham has been involved in this art form a little over three decades. He first saw the dance at the Grand Old Opry which inspired him to sign up for classes to relieve stress. He said the folk dance has been handed down from generation to generation. Lanham said the dance was influenced by a melting pot of traditions including that of Irish, English Scottish, African, and Native American.
" It's just a combination of blending of the different styles and nationalities. Other dances have taken forms from clogging as well. Like tap dance, for example is refined clogging. So, it's just a very old, rich, historical dance," reported Lanham.
There are dozens of clogging classes in the state of Kentucky and many online.
As for Aunt Wanda McClurg, she'll stick with her Tuesday night group in Williamstown.
" It's good exercise and I want to keep moving, and I've met so many good friends and we're all like family. I want to keep on doing it as long as I can. I'm old and I want to keep on going." exclaimed Wanda.
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