Clogging and Flatfooting and Buck Dance, oh my!

I teach traditional dance of the Appalachian Mountains, and one of the of the first questions I often get asked in my classes is, “What’s the difference between clogging and flatfooting?” Buck dance is another name that you often hear for this group of related forms. So what’s the difference? The answer is both simple and complex. 

I’ll start by saying that, where I’m from in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky, we didn’t make much distinction between the styles, and mainly just called it all “dancing”. (Just as I didn’t learn to group music into “bluegrass” and “old-time” categories when I was growing up--it was just all “music”!) But since people often mean different things by each term, I’ll go over them here. 

Like the rest of Appalachian culture, the musical and dance forms of the region evolved over time and with many influences. Although there isn’t a ton of recorded history, many scholars believe that steps from the British Isles, Africa, and the indigenous peoples of the US all likely wove their way into the mix. (And given that Appalachian history has long been white-washed, it’s worth emphasizing here the huge role that African-American artists played in both music and dance from the region.) 

Flatfooting is a low, close-to-the floor style of dance that focuses on making rhythms that go along with the music, usually an old-time dance tune. It’s really all about the sound, and most flatfooters don’t do anything fancy with their arms--there’s a real economy of motion. 

Buck Dance is a term that some use interchangeably with flatfooting, while others use the term to refer to a style that is more energetic, “stompy”, and probably even more closely linked back to the Black dance styles from which it evolved. 

Clogging comes in a HUGE variety of styles these days. One thing that sets it apart in general from the other two types is the use of the shuffle. The basic clogging step is comprised of a “shuffle-step-ball-change” movement, and many other steps also include shuffles. But apart from that commonality among all the types of clogging, you can find: 

  • contemporary cloggers that dance in jingle taps, who incorporate French-Canadian, Irish, Hip-Hop, and other steps, and dance to ALL kinds of pop music 
  • cloggers that dance to Country & Western-Style music and have movements and patterns similar to line dance 
  • “old-timey” clogging groups (such as the long-standing Green Grass Cloggers out of NC) who tend to dance using less flashy steps and whose floor patterns mimic square dance figures. 

Dance, music, and all art are continually evolving. For those who’d like more scholarly reading about the dance and history of the region, I recommend Phil Jamison’s book on the subject, “Hoedowns, Reels, & Frolics”. He also has a wonderful assortment of videos on his WEBSITE that demonstrate the more traditional side of these dance styles through the years. 

And me? I do what many would call a mix of “flatfooting” and “old-timey clogging”. I don’t get too worried about “stylistic purity” or trying not to mix the styles. If I feel like shuffling, I shuffle. It really depends on the day! The thing I love most is IMPROVISING with fiddle tunes--that’s my happy place! 

If you'd like to get started with flatfooting and clogging, click here to get my FREE starter video "3 Essential Steps to Appalachian Flatfooting & Clogging"

I’m also creating both a FREE intermediate resource for you to help you become a better improviser, as well as an ENTIRE DIGITAL COURSE on Appalachian Flatfooting & Clogging. Make sure you're on MY LIST to stay up-to-date on all the goodness!


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