You can’t clog in tennis shoes. I could tell by the clogging instructor’s hillbilly eyes that I was breaking the code, challenging the status quo. He’s wearing white shoes with metal taps on the soles like a tap dancer. I’m here to clog, flail my arms and stomp my feet like Jed Clampett of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” But I’m surely not here to tap dance.
“Gotta get you some shoes,” Charlie Burns of Kentucky mutters, scowling sideways at me before he addresses the class of twelve or so. “Now I’m gonna teach you all Kentucky-style clogging. That’s not got a lot of leg kicks: it’s done with the feet close to the floor.” He bounces a bit from his knees and kicks his leg downward with his toe dangling loose, taps twice with his toe, and stomps his other foot down. Two clicks and a stomp. He’s so quick with the taps it doesn’t look like he’s doing it twice, but there are two definite sounds. I couldn’t hear my own taps because, well, tennis shoes don’t tap. But I could feel two taps. Then a stomp. Always a stomp, always on the downbeat.
“What’s the difference between this and tap?” I ask Charlie after the class.
“Tap dancers make the same sound, a high sound, over and over as fast as they can.” He swirls his arms around and dances some quick tap steps. “No downbeat,” he says with a stomp. “Clogging always emphasizes the downbeat.” Tap tap STOMP.
Bill Nichols, a clogging historian from Walhalla, South Carolina, says clogging comes from the Low Countries of Europe where the farmers worked marshy wet ground and wore wooden shoes, or clogs, instead of leather shoes. When the Dutch farmers got together and danced with their wooden shoes on wooden floors, it made lots of noise. And making noise is what clogging is all about. “Clogging is a dance of sound.” Bill says, “and with the introduction of amplified music the dancers naturally turned to metal taps so they could hear themselves.”
Charlie and Bill and nearly 4,000 other people are here at the Tarrant County Convention Center in Fort Worth for the Fourth Annual National C.L.O.G. (Clogging Leaders Organization- the “G” is just tagged on the end) Convention. JoAnn Gibbs, convention director and boss clogger, says. “Square dancing is fading, while clogging is growing.”’ People are tapping and clacking their tap shoes all around us, and I ask JoAnn how in the world can clogging be overtaking square dancing? “It doesn’t require a partner,” she says, grinning. I look around and see what she means. Most of these people seem to be wandering around by themselves, or at least are not obviously in pairs-it’s a dance form made for singles. And they’re all smiling and talking happily above the din of those obnoxiously noisy taps on everyone’s shoes. Except for me in my renegade tennis shoes.