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Breaking the Rules: Transformational Forces in American Clogging

Gary J. Larsen


In 1985, an article written by Frank Hall appeared in the Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement entitled "Improvisation and Fixed Composition in Clogging." In it, Hall employed a structural movement analysis to examine the role of choice in the organization of movement patterns in American clogging. Hall's findings were based on a comparative study between traditional improvisational solo dancing and contemporary group practices. He demonstrated how these disparate uses of the same movement technique and vocabulary adhered to a unified set of unwritten rules. These rules, of which Hall identified five, provided a framework for the expected actions of participants and governed the majority of artistic choices.

     This paper explores the process of negotiation between the clogging community and the perceived rules governing performances between 1985 and 2010. It details how choices made by participants in violation of unwritten rules were part of a conscious effort to make meaningful change to the style. Located within organizational structures that allowed for and encouraged this change to occur, these innovations would help project a desired image and strategically situate this ever-changing dance form within the larger world of the dance.


In the 1985 edition of the Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement, an article by Frank Hall titled "Improvisation and Fixed Composition in Clogging" employed a structural analysis to examine two related yet distinct uses of American clogging movement vocabulary and technique. A comparison was made between an improvisational soloist and a choreographed duet to determine their shared and unique characteristics in step-pattern construction. Hall, as a participant observer, aimed to discover how these two uses of the movement vocabulary displayed conformity to and agency regarding communally established principles, or "unwritten rules" as he puts it. Hall states that a study of the structural composition of clogging "should reveal its rules, or grammar" (Hall 1985: 200). He asserts that an understanding of these rules would allow him to analyze the freedoms and constraints expressed by participants through their deliberate negotiations within and against the structural boundaries. Movement patterns and elements that did not adhere to such rules, or were not located within these boundaries, would be subject to scrutiny by the community and would risk falling outside of what would be considered legitimate by fellow participants. Hall's intimate insider knowledge of the community was valuable for understanding connections practitioners made between the movement and communal values.

     As a practitioner myself for the past twenty-five years, when reading Hall's designation of unwritten "rules" for the first time, I was struck by the assumptions about human agency that were implied and the likely outcomes of such choice. Hall's stated rules conformed perfectly to the look, feel, and context of the clogging that I remember when I began dancing. It was fascinating for me to then see how Hall's observations about potential change through the violation of these rules related to actual innovations and adaptations that have occurred since that time. The purpose of this paper is to respond to Hall's assumptions, then detail the ways in which creative applications of agency toward these rules has so dramatically affected this community and its dancing during the last two-and-a-half decades.


Hall categorizes the majority of the American clogging community into three distinct groups: buckdancing, freestyle, and precision clogging. Buckdancing, a solo improvisational form where "no taps are worn on the shoes," can be done either within the context of a square dance or as a standalone presentation (Hall 1985: 202). Freestyle clogging, often referred to as 'hoedowning,' is an improvisational group style where square dance figures are performed while dancers sound out rhythms with their feet (with or without taps on their shoes), taking no thought to coordinate the footwork patterns among dancers (ibid.). Finally, precision clogging is a more contemporary manifestation of the freestyle group dancing where emphasis is placed on the coordination of footwork patterns and sounds, with double, or "jingle" taps on the shoes. It is the largest of the three categories and contains both traditional and contemporary expressions, choreographic techniques, and staging choices. Precision clogging is, however, presentational and competitive, often encouraging dancers to diverge from the traditional, rural appearance and form to explore more appealing costuming choices, themes, and rhythms, as well as full-body movement to increase the overall effect of the presentation on an audience and judges. It is increasingly the case that the old-time fiddle music, square-dance figures, and ruffled petticoats are replaced by techno music, ripples, and sequins. The precision category of American clogging has experienced more alterations than the other two during the last quarter of a century and is the genre with which I am most familiar as both a participant and researcher.

Precision Clogging and Competition

These three categories of clogging remain relevant today, but the differences in appearance and intent between precision and the other two has grown larger and more pronounced in the last twenty-five years. This is principally due to the impact of competition. In Hall's later work on competitive Irish dance, he stated the following:

In a very important sense, dancers and teachers are forced to be innovative with the formal features of the movement system. They are pushed by the competitive model to come up with new sequences of movement, new arrangements of movement in space and time, occasionally new movements themselves. [Hall 2008: 112]

These innovations often play with acceptable limitations previously set up by the community to establish its autonomy and homogeneity. When confronted with foreign ideas or practices, many find the question of 'authenticity' or fear of causing offense as insurmountable obstacles to innovation. The risk of being rejected must be constantly balanced with the possibility that innovations "sometimes produce the desired effect in competition, drawing attention to the dancer and providing a winning edge of impressiveness over other competitors" (Hall 2008: 105). The tension felt in the Irish dance community between innovation and preservation led Hall to ask an important question: "How can Irish dancing be preserved when the very mechanism which keeps it going, lively and interesting, i.e., competition, causes it to change?" (Hall 2008: 110).

     There are remarkable similarities between the Irish dance competitions described by Hall and changes that have occurred in American clogging due to the prevalence of competition. Clogging competitions have allowed participants to innovate within their already loose and adaptive structures, often rewarding innovation and creativity over authenticity and tradition. The clogging competition has become "viewed by its participants as a vehicle for the display of talent and creativity, rather than an historical cultural remnant needing preservation" (Larsen 2001: 194).

Observations of Perceived Rules

To determine the rules that structure clogging, Hall utilized a method of structural analysis developed by Adrienne Kaeppler (1972), based on existing linguistic models that were applied to movement. In this method, movement patterns are broken down to the most basic units of discernable movement or 'kinemes,' which are "comparable to phonemes in a conventional [spoken] language. 'Morphokines' are combinations of kinemes which constitute recognized movements by natives, indigenous practitioners of the style of dancing" (Hall 1985: 200). At the morphokinetic level, Hall discovered the "ways in which the kinemes are combined reveal certain characteristics of the idiom" (ibid., 211). He concluded that "the ways or methods of combining kinemes may, in fact, be rules of structure" (ibid.). In summarizing how kinemes were combined into morphokines, Hall made five observations or rules about the structure found in his two test subjects and his own experience as a participant:

  1. Kinemes must be combined in such a way as to produce a "constant changing of weight or movement of the weight bearing foot" (Hall 1985: 215), the majority of which "feature one change of weight per beat" (ibid., 211).

  2. Morphokines must produce an up-and-down motion. "The slight flexion and extension of the knee gives the dancing a nearly constant up and down motion" (Hall 1985: 211). This is clearly related to the one weight change per beat mentioned in the first rule.

  3. Morphokines must include regular audible rhythmic accents.

  4. Each morphokine is a "complete package in itself with a minor cadence. This promotes certain orderliness in the dancing" (Hall 1985: 211).

  5. Any kineme can follow any other kineme. "This is an accommodating feature for creativity and innovation in the idiom" (Hall 1985: 211).

These observations constitute unwritten rules or normal modes of action and a basis for choice in clogging in 1985 for Hall, his subjects, and the American clogging community as he understood it. Hall stipulates that, if dancers were "to combine kinemes in ignorance or violation of these methods," they would produce "morphokines which a native dancer would not identify as clogging" (Hall 1985: 211). Thus, there is choice placed before a dancer or choreographer between conformity and defiance in relation to the standards set by the community. The result of such choice could mean validation within the community or the possibility of risking exclusion. Knowing the rules about the dances' structure helps practitioners define who they are as dancers and how movement expression should be organized according to the shared values of the dance community.

     I have found that, as the cultural identity and makeup of the participants has changed, these rules have become less fixed and more subject to interpretation. For example, over the past twenty-five years, I have witnessed the introduction of foreign step-dance styles through workshops and mass media, the cross-training of participants in other dance forms, and the emergence of the clogging competition as the major performance vehicle for dancers and groups throughout the country. New movement practices that challenge the existing cannon become assimilated into the ever-expanding movement vocabulary within precision clogging. They challenge unwritten standards established through tradition, as specified in part by Hall's rules, and are then adopted because of success found in the competitive arena.

Rules Nos. 1 and 2

In each of the basic rules, Hall carefully detailed the physical effect of each, predicting what would be the likely result were dancers to make choices contrary to them. In the first rule, he observed a constant changing of weight or movement of the weight-bearing foot, noting that the majority "of the morphokines feature one weight change per beat" (Hall 1985: 211). The result of this feature would be a regulated cadence of footwork with weight changes prominently occurring on the downbeat of the music. There are moments, in Hall's notated movement patterns, when two weight changes per beat are visible, producing a change of weight on both the down and upbeat of the phrase. This can be seen in the morphokine "M1d--Triple" combination on page 208, which puts the weight changes on counts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

     A violation of the first rule, Hall indicates, would "produce morphokines in which gesture predominates the movement." Because of this choice, he continues, "it is also necessary to violate rule #2 as a side effect of violating rule #1, because there are no kinemes which provide for level change without weight change or support movement" (Hall 1985: 211). The visual effect resulting from this disregard of perceived structural organization would result in a smoother style that, Hall indicates, "would be much more like tap dancing, which can be a very smooth dance" (Hall 1985: 211).

     The results of a violation of the second rule would be similar to the first. "While weight may change in this instance, it does so without the flexion and extension of the knees. Thus, the weight is held more evenly in a horizontal plane" (Hall 1985: 212). Again, "the effect would be more like tap, or certain parts of Irish step-dance" (ibid.). The smoothness Hall identifies, and the similarity to tap dancing he mentions, became a reality within a few years after his statement. It did not happen through an isolated or individual invention but from the inclusion of foreign movement vocabulary into the precision clogging vernacular within the competitive process.

     Throughout the 1980s, precision-clogging groups across the country were relatively homogenous due to the frequency of their interactions and relative simplicity of the vernacular movement. Dancers met often at conventions, competitions, festivals, and workshops held at various locations across the country throughout the year. One of the most famous of these gatherings was an annual workshop in the mountain resort of Fontana, North Carolina. In 1985, a dance teacher named Judy Weymouth from Ontario, Canada, came to Fontana to learn how to clog. Weymouth was a practitioner of Ontario-style Canadian step dancing, a distant relative of clogging (closer to Irish step dance or tap dancing). She came to the Fontana workshop to expand her abilities. Over the course of the three-day workshop, she was asked by the organizers to demonstrate her style of step dancing from Canada. That informal demonstration became a transformational moment in the history of American clogging.

     Canadian step dancing, in its various manifestations, was fundamentally different from the popular style of American clogging at that time, principally in the area of weight changes and knee flexion (Rules 1 and 2). Weymouth used a more mobile and active standing leg, with hops and weight changes occurring in more rapid frequency (up to four per down- and upbeat in a 4/4 phrase) allowing for more possibilities in the overall structure of movement. This was demonstrated by the fact that Canadian step dancing can be done to 4/4, 2/4, 3/4, and 6/8 time music at various speeds, while "traditional" American clogging depends on a duple meter ranging between 100 to 180 beats per minute, because of the bounce created by the knees and weight changes (Larsen 2001).

     In Hall's first rule, the weight changes occur dominantly on the downbeat and only periodically on the upbeat. When Weymouth demonstrated a faster weight change, literally doubling the quickness of the weight change (with a lower center of gravity and deeper bend of the knees), cloggers were introduced to a wealth of new possible outcomes in step-pattern construction. This was also contrary to the rule observed by Hall that weight changes predominantly occur on the downbeat.

     Hall's second rule was also challenged by Weymouth's performance. There were times when her knees remained in a bent position as she quickly changed weight or added accents with the gesture (nonweight bearing) foot. The idea of abandoning the constant up-and-down movement, facilitated by the continuous extension and flexion of the knee, in favor of using a more smooth and varied approach brought again a wealth of new possibilities. The increased movement vocabulary enabled dancers and teachers to extend the range of music and speeds they used.

     As many of the attendees at the Fontana workshop were teachers from various locations throughout the country, this new style of movement quickly spread to become part of a new vernacular. I remember being a student dancer in Utah in 1986 when my teacher introduced this new kind of clogging he had learned at one of Weymouth's workshops. The new movement brought fresh material for those competition teams seeking a winning edge with innovative combinations and variations. More important to our purpose, this innovative new technique applied to clogging brought about, as Hall predicted, a smooth style of dancing.

     The incorporation of Canadian-style step dancing into the American clogging vocabulary established a precedent for the further appropriation of foreign movement elements and ideas. In the early 1990s, about a dozen dancers and teachers in California, Arizona, and Utah began to experiment in the use of tap-dance technique. When the popular, commercial Irish dance extravaganza Riverdance burst onto the international scene in 1994, rhythmic patterns, footwork motifs, and themes were borrowed from Irish dance, which brought further smoothness plus a broader movement vocabulary from which to draw. The combination of these various foot-percussive dance styles was, and continues to be, widespread in the competitive American clogging community. However, focusing on the use of the feet and legs is only part of the movement innovations that make clogging what it is today.

Rule No. 3

It is obvious that a violation of the third rule would produce quiet steps, as there would not be audible rhythmic accents. For Hall, they would be the "easiest to recognize as non-cloglike" (Hall 1985: 212). If, in 1985, dancers were to use movements without an audible component, they would seem out of place in a dance form that is based on continuous rhythm making with the feet. In the mid-1980s, competitive groups began to coordinate minor gestural uses of the hands, arms, and head during the clogging footwork in order to bring both audience and judges' attention to increased group uniformity, which created a distinguishing 'accent' to the overall presentation. As groups with these incremental innovations would win, the actions were copied by others and thereby introduced into vernacular practices. The pace of change accelerated as participants moved further toward implementing the whole body and utilizing it as a means of increasing the overall visual impact. For instance, it would not be uncommon today to find whole phrases of movement in which the feet are making no noise, with the focus directed toward actions of other parts of the body.

     In my own research (based on my experience as an adjudicator within the competitive community), I have concluded that the competitive component only rewards groups and individuals for innovating in small, carefully measured increments (Larsen 2001). When change occurs too quickly or departs to a significant degree from tradition, it can be seen as too radical. Regarded as a mere novelty by the community, it is not likely to be adopted by others.

     My research has also led me to suggest that, historically, as clogging spread to geographical regions and cultures not linked to Appalachia (the traditional and historical homeland of American clogging), the movement content became less tied to this traditional heritage and the structure that determined its distinct identity as a genre of step dancing (Larsen 2001). As influential dancers and choreographers also cross-trained in movement styles such as cheerleading, jazz, ballroom dance, tap, and hip-hop, elements from these styles of dancing began to be incorporated into competitive clogging presentations. The rise and competitive dominance of clogging teams such as Utah's Steele Family Cloggers in the 1980s and Colleen Pearson's Arizona Pride in the 1990s are examples of this process. Distanced from the need and desire to adhere to tradition, innovation-minded teams such as these explored previously untapped music, costume, and movement options. It became the primary goal of a competition choreographer to create fresh and memorable material, push the boundaries of the possible, and astound adjudicators and onlookers. Today, it is not uncommon for a precision-clogging choreography to include lengthy phrases borrowed from foreign sources like Bollywood or to employ commercial themes such as the Phantom of the Opera and Scooby-Doo. It would not be out of place to see basket tosses, partner stunts, and gymnastics mixed with movie themes, hip-hop, and other references to American popular culture.

     In the 1990s, such innovation became so overwhelming that many of the sanctioning bodies were compelled to include very specific rules within the "Show" or "Artistic Expression" dance category (which is the most open to expression and interpretation) stipulating what percentage of the choreography must be recognizably clogging. For instance, the rules for an America's Clogging Hall of Fame competition, the most conservative of the groups, states there must be at least 80 percent clogging performed.1 The most progressive organization, America on Stage, only requires 50 percent.2 In spite of these guidelines, there remains a great deal of freedom for choreographers to innovate and adopt nearly any foreign thematic or movement element into their performance.

Rule No. 4

As a practitioner of clogging, Hall recognized that a majority of the steps begins with the same action foot and ends with a "step or other support column accent" (Hall 1985: 211). This characteristic gives each step or sequence a common cognitive completeness that is recognized by practitioners and "promotes a certain orderliness in the dancing" (ibid.). With the increases in movement vocabulary described above, there is a greater amount of diversity and possibilities for step combination and patterning. When the size of the step repertoire today is compared with that in the 1980s, we find a larger variety of choices from which dancers can draw in the construction of movement phrases, with a wider use of speed variations and time signatures. As a result of this, we find less shared conceptualization of step patterns as complete packages or units.

Rule No. 5

It's difficult to label this as a rule since, as Hall states, "there does not appear to be a set of rules for which movements must appear in which sequence" (Hall 1985: 211). Although Hall did not acknowledge a recognizable mandate about the ordering of kinemes within constructed phrases, it could be that his proximity to the style prevented him from noticing some obvious tendencies. Hall saw "freedom of choice for the dancer in the combination of kinemes into morphokines as long as the rules of weight change, level change, and audible accents are maintained" (ibid., 214). He also noted "a similar freedom of choice in the structural ordering of morphokines" (ibid.). However, restricting freedom of choice to these two levels seems relatively limited compared with what is performed today. With more kinemes now available, the combinations are more widely varied and the possibilities infinitely more numerous. It remains true that kinemes may be combined in nearly any way even though the size of vocabulary is larger.


As I hope to demonstrate, the increasing presence of competition has had a great effect on the practice and appearance of American clogging. Its influence has also greatly impacted the existence of improvisation as a means of expression in precision clogging, which was a central focus of Hall's paper. Improvisation in contemporary competitive precision clogging is practically nonexistent. The "learn, perfect, and compete" cycle used in teaching today's competitive cloggers prohibits any cultivation of the skill of improvisation and has been abandoned in favor of the synchronicity of precisely executed group performance. This demonstrates a changing philosophy, one that governs choice making on the part of the dancer and, therefore, affects artistic creativity. I maintain that such a change, in response to increased competition and commercial media influences, results in this dance genre being regarded more as a sport than a cultural, social, or recreational expression.

Other Observations

To paint a larger picture about culturally significant movement practices in clogging, Hall observed that "the arms hang loosely at the sides, moving only in response to other body movement" (Hall 1985: 204). He continued by noting changes to this tradition that were beginning during the time of his writing:

Recently, however, a major exception to this rule has developed in precision clogging where limited choreographed arm movement or positioning takes place. This is a good example of 'breaking the rules' or violating the aesthetic of clogging, in some people's opinions. [Hall 1985: 204]

Hall says the same about the lack of movement of the hips, mentioning that they "move in clogging only to the extent that they follow or accommodate leg gestures" (Hall 1985: 204). It is clear that the stylistic elements that dominated clogging in 1985 were more or less focused on the connection of the feet to the floor: "In contrast to the activity in the legs, the upper body (torso, arms, head and hips) remains comparatively still" (ibid., 207). This has certainly changed as dancers have incorporated the use of multiple body parts, including the hips, as an expression in accompaniment to the feet. The West African rooted movements of the back and pelvis found in contemporary hip-hop dancing has also influence choreographic performances of precision clogging.

     Hall's analysis focused on basic movement structures, so there was, understandably, little attention paid to the historical background of American clogging in his article. In his introduction, however, Hall was careful to emphasize the importance of history and tradition to the participants with whom he interacted. He stated, "[R]regardless of the specific history of clogging, a significant aspect of the idiom is that nearly all cloggers have a sense that there is a history, heritage, or tradition of the dancing" (Hall 1985: 202). This sense of tradition was an important measuring stick against which all choices and actions were evaluated, thereby engaging the agency of the participants and consequently validating or rejecting their identity as community members.

     Hall states that if one was "asked from where their dancing comes, a clogger is apt to respond, 'from the mountains'" (Hall 1985: 202). This response reveals the construction of and identification with a traditional, rural American identity that is commonly associated with this dance form. During my own studies of American clogging and its community over the past decade, I have found it fascinating to see how drastically this conception has changed. Competitive dancers have effectively distanced themselves from the rural and historical context, which they often consider an undesirable and outdated stereotype. The dancing has moved into urban areas and is practiced by dancers influenced more by contemporary pop culture and its preferences. I can state with some certainty that a large number of youth involved in clogging today, especially those outside the southeastern United States, know very little of "traditional" clogging culture or practices.

     In the summer of 2003, a dance contest reality show called Dance Fever presented various genres of dance to a wide public audience on the ABC Family Channel of American television. Two of the top four groups competing for the top prize were clogging groups. It was the first time that competitive clogging had been given a national stage. One of the groups was an all-woman's team from Atlanta, called the "Southern Belles," and the other was an all-men's group from Kentucky called "All That." They were two of the top precision-clogging teams in the country and therefore represented the competition community very well. During an interview with the dancers between dancing segments, one of the young women from the Southern Belles said, "We want to show America that clog dancing is contemporary. It's up-beat, and you can have fun, and anyone can do it." Then, as the camera pans away, another one of the women chimes in sarcastically, "and not in a barn."3 When it was the men's turn to be interviewed, one of the young men called clogging "a very traditional dance form, but, just like anything else, it has to change."4 These young people were clearly seeking to change the stereotype of a dance form that is routinely categorized with square dancing, poufy calico dresses, and rural lifestyles; and their dancing reflected it. Their costuming, music, and movement choices were extremely contemporary and urban. The national competitive clogging community was thrilled that its passion and work was finally receiving the national attention that the community felt it deserved. Since then, several nationally televised talent programs (including America's Got Talent and So You Think You Can Dance) have prominently featured competitive clogging groups and individuals, although cloggers have never won the top prize.

     These changes have not occurred without resentment from some purists inside the clogging world, who prefer the more traditional styles. In 1983, at a time when a divide between traditionalists and modernists was becoming increasingly apparent, Gail Smith-Matthews wrote a Master's thesis on the topic of mountain dance in western North Carolina. She argued that the traditionalist viewpoint was not biased against any artistic motives, but rather valued greatly the deeply embedded cultural connections of the expressive form. "Most informants" Smith-Matthews wrote "perceive [modern] precision clogging, a highly choreographed interpretation of the mountain dance, as a threat to the survival of traditional dance characteristics" (Smith-Matthews 1983: 32–33). The primary complaint was that "precision cloggers violate an aspect of the mountain dance aesthetic that appreciates simplicity" (Smith-Matthews 1983: 122–23).

     In 1995, an article by Jane Harris Woodside in a book called Communities in Motion demonstrated an ever-widening schism between the two camps:

Other clogging groups have departed further from traditional social dance, leaving behind all vestiges of old-time square dance figures and often blurring what had been well-defined gender roles. At its most extreme, these new-style cloggers dance to disco and other pop music, add karate moves to their routines, executing various acrobatic moves, or imitate robots [1995: 134].

Many practitioners have argued, and rightly so, that the infusion of other styles of dancing into clogging has diluted it to the point where it is no longer recognizable. Certainly, it has changed the focus of the dance from one that was principally about the rhythms made with the feet to a presentation that uses the whole body as a means of expression accompanied by complex rhythm making with the feet.

     With the increasingly urbanized look and feel to the movement content and its commercialization, group and event owners and organizers have made efforts to represent, promote, and capitalize on this ever-changing identity of the community. Having both a traditional and contemporary movement expression called by the same name is problematic, however, when trying to 'market a product' to an urban audience. One organization has gone so far as to change the name of the dance. "America on Stage," a group headquartered in Utah, now promotes competitive clogging events as "power tap," a marketing strategy aimed to feed off the recent resurgence of interest in urban tap dancing and to appeal to a more youthful and metropolitan contingent. This new name, introduced in 2002, has not yet caught on nationwide, even among the more progressive-minded groups and organizations. Perhaps there are many practitioners, like the young man cited above, who see clogging as a varied and multifaceted expression that is continuing a long line of tradition that changes and adapts to new places and circumstances, but not in need of a new name.


I first read Hall's 1985 JASHM article in 2000, while conducting research for a Master's thesis on the topic, and I was delighted at how well he documented and analyzed the dominant styles of precision and freestyle clogging in 1985. I was greatly intrigued by the detail with which Hall described how the violations of his observed "rules" would produce new movement practices and how those actions, in turn, would likely be viewed within the clogging community. After further analysis, it became clear that each of the rules and observations Hall had made had been challenged and overcome during the time between his writing and my research. I propose that, as a direct result of the proliferation of competitions, those making choreographic choices have pushed each of the rules or boundaries up to and past its limits.

     Whatever the reasons for or manifestations of these marked changes, it is clear that participants have made choices about what they prefer to perform and present about themselves, in this case, for the most part, reflecting a desire to move away from the tradition. Dancers making choices about the way they prefer to move and be seen reveals much about the way in which they see themselves within their world, which is increasingly motivated by popular culture and facilitated by high-speed mass communication. Undoubtedly, change will continue to occur as participants consciously choose what elements they will keep and what elements they will change or adapt to their evolving needs. Such selective processes and changes through time occur with all human activities, including dancing. As Gail Matthews-DeNatale reminds us,

Ironically, it is often a confrontation with change that helps us clarify the essence, importance, and meaning of our traditions. Folk dance, as well as folklore in general, must continually change in order to keep up with the needs of the people who engage in it. We are constantly figuring out which new cultural options we will embrace or reject [1995: 116].

Even though Hall set out to write about the difference between improvisation and composition in American clogging, he implicitly said a great deal about choice and agency within its community. His observations about change in relationship to the observed structure became prophetic statements about the future of the idiom.




3 Dance Fever on ABC Family Network, Season 1, Episode 6, originally aired August 24, 2003.

4 Ibid.

References Cited:

Hall, Frank
1985. Improvisation and Fixed Composition in Clogging. Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement 3(4): 200–17.
2008. Competitive Irish Dance: Art, Sport, and Duty. Madison, WI: Macater Press.

Larsen, Gary
2001. From Imported Tradition to Ownership: The Processes of Change and Innovation in Clogging in Utah. MA Thesis, University of California, Los Angeles.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L.
1972. Method and Theory in Analyzing Dance Structure with an Analysis of Tongan Dance. Journal of Ethnomusicology 16 (2):173–217.

Matthews-DeNatale, Gail
1995. Wild and Yet Really Subdued: Cultural Change, Stylistic Diversification, and Personal Choice in Traditional Appalachian Dance. In Communities in Motion: Dance, Community, and Tradition in America's Southeast and Beyond (ed. Susan Eike Spaulding and Jane Harris Woodside). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 111–25.

Smith-Matthews, Gail
1983. Cutting a Dido: A Dancer's-Eye View of Mountain Dance in Haywood Country, N.C. Master's thesis, Indiana University.

Woodside, Jane Harris
1995. Clogging is Country: A Precision Clogger's Perspective; An Interview with Barbara Bogart. In Communities in Motion: Dance, Community, and Tradition in America's Southeast and Beyond (ed. Susan Eike Spaulding and Jane Harris Woodside). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 133–36.



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