What is the history of flatfooting in Appalachia? How does flatfooting differ from other types of clogging?
Clogging is a unique part of Appalachian culture that can still be seen every Friday night at the Floyd Country Store in Floyd, Va. Having grown up with Appalachian heritage, I had always seen flatfooting and other types of clogging at festivals, but I had never paid much attention to it. I hadn’t realized how much nostalgia clogging had for me until I visited the Floyd Country Store. Watching people dance, made me realize how important clogging is to Appalachian culture and to many of its people; I had always connected clogging to a small town in West Virginia, not something that spans the entire Appalachian region.
There is some debate over the difference between flatfooting and clogging. In order to simplify the discussion, I am going to define flatfooting as type of folk dance related to clogging, where the feet are kept close to the floor and with very little noise (“Historic Timeline”).
I set out on this project wanting to know the history of flatfooting, but I soon realized I would need to understand the history behind clogging first; by doing this, I was able to see how the different types of clogging branched off and what makes flatfooting different from other forms of clogging.
My family in Appalachia has a strong German and Scotts-Irish heritage, as does much of Appalachia. It doesn’t come as much surprise that clogging has roots in Ireland, Scotland, and England. In the fifth century, Irish pagans created a type of step dancing called a “soft jig”. By the mid-18th century, as a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution in Northern England, another type of stepdancing formed called the “Lancashire Clog”. As Europeans began to immigrate, these forms of clogging made their way to America. Many Irish and Scotts-Irish immigrants settled in Appalachia (“Historic Timeline”).
Clogging began to further develop in the USA as the cross country shows, like Vaudeville, became popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries. At the turn of the 20th century, Appalachian clogging emerged, blending dances brought by earlier settlers, such as Irish, Scottish, and English. European countries were not the sole influence to flatfoot clogging, however; some steps were influenced by African traditions brought over by slaves, as well as by Native Americans. African American influence can be further seen in a form of clogging, known as “buck dancing”. If you take a stereotypical look at Appalachia, many view the region as overwhelming white, but if look beyond the stereotype you will see a true melting pot of cultures (“Historic Timeline”).
Mountain clogging, such as flatfooting, and tap dancing are closely related; “tap is an urban artform” with the same origin as Appalachian clogging. Because clogging was based in a rural region, it developed a lot slower — and stayed relatively unchanged from its roots (“Clogging: How It’s Different from Tap”).
While some sources use flatfooting, clogging, and buck dancing interchangeably, some sources are adamant that these forms of dancing are very different. Unlike other forms of clogging, like buck dancing, which is a more extroverted and loud dance, flatfooting is a lighter dance. Flatfoot dancers “dance solo and tend to keep their feet close to the floor. The steps are not quite so fancy, and there are no standard steps” (Samples). Robert Dotson, a renowned flatfooter said: “If you get to making a lot of noise, you’re not a flatfooter” (Staff). Flatfooting is an expression of how the dancer feels the music. One elderly West Virginia flatfooter once said, “The music just goes in your ear, down through your soul, and comes out through your feet” (Samples).
Clogging saw a revival in the late 1970’s by the Green Grass Cloggers; it can still be found in western North Carolina, West Virginia, and southwestern Virginia(“CLOGGING”). As seen by the regulars at the Floyd Country Store and by renowned dancers such as Robert Dotson and D. Ray White, flatfooting is an important aspect of Appalachian culture.
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“CLOGGING.” Clogging, www.brianhotchkies.com.au/PAGES/Clogging.htm.
“Clogging: How It’s Different from Tap.” Dance Spirit, Dance Spirit, 31 May 2017, www.dancespirit.com/clogging-how-its-different-from-tap-2326037218.html.
“Historic Timeline.” Kern County United Square Dancers Association Bakersfield CA, www.kernsq.org/cloggers_history.html.
Staff, written by Our State. “Mountain Dancer: Flatfooting in Appalachia — Our State Magazine.” Our State Magazine, Our State Magazine, 16 Jan. 2015, www.ourstate.com/robert-dotson/.
Samples, Mack. “Flatfoot Dancing.” West-Virginia-Encyclopedia-Text, West Virginia Humanities Council, 22 Feb. 2011, www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/2191.