A bit about the origins of step clog dancing

Step clog dancing, English style, is a percussive form of rhythmic dancing where the body does little but the feet – in their wooden-soled clog shoes – do a lot of interesting things with movement and sound. Percussive wooden-shoe and clog dances are known to have been around in the theatre from at least the 17thC and later on the music halls and American vaudeville. They were the inspiration for the rise of tap dancing, which usurped clog dance in popularity in the early 20thC just as clogs were becoming unfashionable and associated with dirty work and poverty.

Clog dancing nearly died out but was revived particularly during the late 1960s-early 1970s when enthusiasts tracked down many of the original clog dancers, collecting material from them and ensuring they were able to pass their steps on to a new generation. We owe our great enjoyment of this traditional art form to those wonderful original dancers, such as Pat Tracey, Sammy Bell, Sam Sherry, Johnson Ellwood and many more - as well as the researchers and the revivalists, who all passed on their love of clogging to us.  Much of this was made available through the work of the EFDSS, Reading Step and Clog Group, Newcastle Cloggies (and the Instep Research Team that spun off from them) and Lancashire Wallopers, who all carried out research and organised workshop events that created the revival in step clog dancing that is ongoing today. 

It is known that wooden-soled shoes - clogs - were provided for agricultural workers as far back as the 15thC, but they came into their own as cheap and sturdy footwear as people moved into the towns from the 18thC on to work in industries like the massive textile and steel mills and coal mines of the north of England. The rhythmic clattering of machinery is said to have inspired many of the steps, which were danced for both personal and professional entertainment. Clog steps and dances were mainly collected in areas of the north of England, where the culture had remained alive for longer, but were once more widespread than that in the past.  Wales has a different style of clog dancing that has been revived, clog dance steps were collected by Tom and Joan Flett in Scotland and Duke's Dandy dance a traditional Irish reel that Moira learnt in her childhood in hard shoes, but which we know was also danced in clogs.

Whilst most of the steps Duke’s Dandy dance have come from across the north of England, records have been found of clog dancing being performed in the Nottinghamshire region in the 19thC, in Retford, Worksop, and across in Lincolnshire – but the style and steps are now lost.

The music used is usually traditional hornpipe- or waltz-time tunes, with some jigs, reels, schottisches and slip jigs, but need not be restricted to those. Members of Duke’s Dandy have danced accompanied by song, percussion and contemporary music and unaccompanied too.

Step clog dance is primarily a solo form, but nowadays is often choreographed to work in team formations. In the English tradition, it should not be confused with the north-west style of group dancing also known as “clog morris” which is – well – morris dancing in clogs! And Appalachian “clogging”, although also percussive, is not done in clogs and may have developed from step dances from across the British Isles, but is from the USA.

Further Info:
- Alex Fisher's website: she also teaches and produces music CDs and instructional DVDs


- resource for English step clog dancers, run by Melanie Barber

- authoritative articles from Gateshead Library

- English Clogging in Lancashire in the 1880s/1890s - Chris Brady's website
- Ian Dunmur article on the history of step dancing - Chris Brady's website
- information on the history of Maude's and Walkley's clog factory, Hebden Bridge, W. Yorks.
- this factory closed down but the name has been retained by previous workers who still operate today in nearby Mytholmroyd: http://www.clogs.co.uk/

Boston University, Mass. USA - The Digital Video Research Archive of Morris, Sword, and Clog Dancing - English and American Performances 1912-present: an amazing archive, compiled by Dr Tony Barrand. Includes early film records of Green Ginger Clog and many other clog and morris dancers.  (Put "clog" into the search to find all kinds of English  clog dancing from the UK and the US)

- Further interesting points from Penny Royal clog team

- well-respected teacher of the north east style of clog dancing – instruction manuals & DVDs

- Wooden-soled clog dancing in USA – Dr Tony Barrand’s website on the Dancing Marley's

Reading Clog and Step Group videos from 1993-2002 - sales winding down now, so check site for availability.  Valuable archival records and resources.

An Introductory Bibliography on Clog and Step Dance (1994) ed Chris Metherill, pub EFDSS - downloadable document.

Garland Films – Chris Metherill (once a researcher with Reading Step and Clog group and well known as a lead figure in Newcastle Cloggies, the Instep Research team, and Morris Ring Archives); sources valuable archive and more modern films of morris, clog and music from the work of Barry Callaghan, from Instep Research Team and other sources. 
Includes DVD and notation of steps from once-time member of Duke’s Dandy and well-remembered friend, Dot Murphie, supported by our own Penny Smith.
[Note: Newcastle Cloggies/Instep Research Team's many information booklets on collected dances with steps transcribed in Newcastle Notation format can also be obtained through Chris Metherill.]

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