Guest Post: The What, When, Why, and How of Clogging

Today’s guest post is from Dorothy Stephenson. While still in college she opened a small dance studio specializing in clogging instruction called The Sundance Studio. Today, Sundance not only houses Sundance Studio, but also a productions company, booking agency, and web design firm.

Clogging? What Is Clogging?

Yes, it’s kind of like Tap. No, it’s not like Riverdance. Clogging is every dance – a dance form that includes everything from Irish step dancing to hip hop and everything in between. Cloggers perform choreography to anything from “Uncle Penn” by Ricky Skaggs to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” It is a dance form that defines who I was, who I am, and who I always will be.

A Little History

Clogging, known as the “melting pot of dances,” began during the 1700’s in the Appalachian mountains of the eastern United States. Scottish, Irish, English, and Dutch-German settlers found common ground through dance. Over time, their styles wove together and clogging was born. As clogging spread throughout the United States, other influences, such as Native American and African, found their way into this new dance form.

Traditional clogging, also known as “drag-style clogging,” is a percussive dance where a dancer produces rhythmic sounds from steel double taps positioned on the heel and toe of the shoe. The sound then combines with the rhythm of the music which was usually bluegrass. Many times mountain figures, or square dance figures, are combined with freestyle clogging footwork to form hoedowns.

21st Century Clogging

Clogging; dancer Dorothy Stephenson; photographer Kathy Cobb

©Kathy Cobb Photography

Today’s most recent version of clogging features influences of jazz, ballet, hip hop, and pointe throughout precision routines. Modern “cloggers,” such as myself, do not don the stereotypical crinoline and petticoat that their predecessors once did. Sequins, fringe, and netting are all fair game now. Competitive teams battle it out on the dance floor through the American Clogging Hall of Fame, Clogging Champions of America, and the National Hoedown and Clogging Council competitive circuits.

Clogging is making a name for itself not only on the dance floor, but in the pop culture scene. Soloists and groups have appeared on shows such as America’s Got Talent, America’s Best Dance Crew, So You Think You Can Dance, and most recently SPEED’s Fast Track to Fame. Clogging has appeared not only in the United States but around the world. No, clogging is not just an American dance. It can be found in Europe, Australia, Canada, Austria, Germany, New Zealand, and more. In fact, the Soco Gap Cloggers, one of the first competitive clogging teams, performed for the Queen of England in the early 1900’s.

Why Clogging?

Not only is clogging a way to exercise and have fun, but it is also a way of life for many dancers across the country – myself included. Five years ago, I was working a 9-to-5 job as a teller at a local bank while attending college for a degree in business management. I was motionless whether I was at work or in a classroom, and it was killing me. I yearned for the excitement of dancing and entertaining, and I wanted more. So after about nine months of sitting behind the counter watching other people’s bank accounts grow, I decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it. I quit my job and opened my own dance studio in an old barn with no indoor plumbing. Being an instructor gives me the opportunity to teach at various dance and clogging workshops and allows me to meet new and amazing people no matter where I travel.

The popularity of this dance form is huge as it lends itself to many different age and personality groups – an attribute that I believe accounts for its tremendous following. There is something for everyone from kids, teens, young adults, all the way to the “golden oldies.’ The diversity of music from bluegrass and country to rock, pop, hip hop, and even heavy metal accounts for many different personality types and makes clogging fun for anyone to enjoy whether they are performing or watching.

Clogging, just like America, continues to grow and evolve more and more every year. In the past twenty years in which I have been blessed to clog, I have seen many dance forms trickle into clogging and have seen clogging appear in many places I never dreamed I’d see it.

Just as it has always been from the beginning, clogging continues to evolve and to change, symbolizing the nature and spirit of those who first came to the Appalachian Mountains,” says Steve Smith, veteran clogger and national instructor.

More Clogging…

  • Should you be interested in learning clogging, Smith offers instructional clogging videos from beginner to advanced levels on his website at
  • If you are a dance instructor or studio owner and would like to incorporate clogging into your curriculum, visit to find a clogging instructor in your area.
  • You can also visit for the latest news in the clogging industry.

Dorothy Stephenson, Sundance StudiosFor twenty years, Dorothy Stephenson has entertained audiences with the dance form that she holds dear to her heart – Clogging. Dorothy owns Sundance Studio and Productions Company. She leads the Little Switzerland Cloggers, and also competes with her competitive troupe, Sundance Express, who qualified for, competed at, and placed at the 2007, 2008, and 2009 American Clogging Hall of Fame (ACHF) World Championships in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. In addition, she has earned numerous awards and titles. Most notably, was her 2008 induction into the ACHF All-American Team, an honor bestowed on only 12 men and women from around the country. Along with her partner, Graham Kershner, Dorothy entertains frequently at prestigious resorts such as The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, and The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Do you teach or have you tried clogging?

What do you enjoy most about it? Tell us in the comments!

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Classic Confusion

Question Mark

What is classical dance?

The most inclusive definition I’ve found is used throughout K-12 educational documents and refers to classical dance as:

“Dance that has been developed into highly stylized structures within a culture. Generally developed within the court or circle of power in a society.”

Rooted in Europe, ballet would probably be considered the classical dance of “the west.” Other regions have their own classical dance forms – Indian or Cambodian classical dance are examples. Such forms are sometimes included under an umbrella of “folk dance,” “ethnic dance,” or even “world dance.” Depending on who you talk to, however, these terms are all synonymous or all different classifications.

There is typically much confusion among dancers about the labeling of dance. I am no history scholar but I will do my best to make sense of the terms as I understand them.

What Is Classical Ballet?

I have heard and comprehended the definition of classical ballet in two ways. The ABT online dictionary provides a pretty clear and concise definition of both usages:

  1. The traditional style of ballet, which stresses the academic technique developed through the centuries of the existence of ballet.
  2. A ballet in which the style and structure adhere to the definite framework established in the nineteenth century. Examples of classical ballets are Coppélia, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake.

In other words, classical ballet can be defined as ballet studied in the tradition that has been passed down, relatively unchanged at its core, since the birth of the technique. There are variances in the methodology of classical ballet study which are often based upon region. Vagonova, Cecchetti, and more recently Balanchine or R.A.D. are examples. The term classical ballet is generally used as a means of differentiating these traditional principles of study from those of contemporary ballet.

Within classical ballet additional labels may be applied to works and performances that tend to reflect the era in which they were created (i.e., Romantic, Russian, Diaghliev era, etc.). Unfortunately, certain performed works within this lineage are referred to as being of the classical ballet era, or classical ballets. These typically refer to works of Petipa dating from the 19th and early 20th century (such as the ones listed above). Works that have employed the language, phrasing, structure, and techniques of classical ballet in the 20th century and beyond (many of Balanchine’s works are a good example) have typically been labeled as neoclassical, as they seem to bridge the gap between those in the classical ballet tradition and contemporary ballet by stretching the boundries of the classical ballet “rules.”

Contemporary ballet, generally refers to a work that takes its technique (and pointework) from classical ballet but also utilizes abstracted (or less literal) movement ideas, manipulation of the spine and torso in movement, and choreographic processes similar to those in modern/contemporary dance. Here, the focus is often more on the movement itself rather than a narrative, or story. Today’s students of ballet typically study classical techniques along with modern dance techniques so that they are able to adapt their classical techniques to fit any of the above genres.

Modern Dance vs. Contemporary Dance

Modern dance, like the art of ballet in the 17th century, was at one point (the early 1900’s) a new idea (see “What is Modern Dance?” for a little history lesson).

I have heard people refer to the techniques and works of people like Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, and other originators as “classical modern dance” – sounds like an oxymoron, I know. (Note:  traditional modern dance is yet another mutation).

Typically modern dance has been dropped altogether when referring to 21st century concert dance works. For now, these works simply fall under the label of contemporary dance, which you can also read more about in the linked article above. If, or when, there is a shift of focus within this realm of dance, perhaps a new (and likely confusing) label will be attached to it!

Labeling Dance

As you can see, the repetitious or sometimes redundant terminology in categorizing creates difficulty in talking about dance.

Labels are often unsatisfactory and are argued and debated, creating even further confusion. But, I think it is helpful for students of dance to understand that even though there is sometimes an overlapping of terms, there is a difference between technique and choreography in classifying dance.

For labeling purposes, all work/art/choreography being created now is contemporary but may be subject to a change in labeling in the future. A new or current work can evoke aesthetics and processes of the past, but would probably be described as contemporary.

Older works are often categorized by both the techniques that inform them and by the era in which they were created.

The techniques studied by dancers which inform contemporary concert dance choreography are (in the broadest terms) modern dance, classical ballet, and possibly jazz dance, and can also be infused with elements of vernacular (or social/ballroom) dance, ethnic dance forms, martial arts, etc.

Through study of the history of dance and through experiencing a broad range of dance genres, one becomes more equipped to recognize relationships, influences and changes in the timeline of dance (which is really more important than the label itself).

Location, Location, Location

Just remember that in labeling dance, sometimes it just depends on who you talk to, where they’re from, and their background in dance.

In addition, we must recognize, of course, that labels are limited and really only useful when reading, writing, or talking about dance. Dance, by its nature – a language of movement – is an art form that resists labeling.

Don’t worry if it’s all still confusing.

It is confusing for those working and creating within, and writing about the dance world.

In fact, if you feel you would like to add or respond to my thoughts, please feel free.

The more recent something is, the harder it is to define because we are still in the midst of change. And change in art occurs as slowly or rapidly as the world around it. Compare the mutations of dance in the last 100 years to the mutations of earlier centuries and I think you’ll see it runs parallel to advances in technology, industry, and communication.

The Dancer believes that his art has something to say which cannot be expressed in words or in any other way than by dancing… there are times when the simple dignity of movement can fulfill the function of a volume of words. There are movements which impinge upon the nerves with a strength that is incomparable, for movement has power to stir the senses and emotions, unique in itself. This is the dancer’s justification for being, and his reason for searching further for deeper aspects of his art. – Doris Humphrey

If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it. – Isadora Duncan

Dance isn’t something that can be explained in words; it has to be danced. – Paige Arden

Talk about dance? Dance is not something to talk about. Dance is to dance. – Peter St. James