by Tina R. Fields, Ph.D.

Tina Fields calls contra and barn dances, sings ballads and rounds of the grim, bawdy, or sacred varieties, leads ceremonial wilderness trips, and chairs the Ecopsychology M.A. program at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. She loves listening to stories for both fun and data. At the time of this publication, her dad Hank, who is featured in the article, is 99 years old. A book containing a longer version of this article and many of the actual square dance calls collected and used by Hank Fields in the 1950s is in progress. It will soon be available on Tina’s blog.


Square dancing hit its heyday in the far west during the 1950s, and many elder members of my family were heavily involved in it. Hank Fields, my dad, was a popular square dance caller long before I was born. I follow lightly in his footsteps as a contra dance caller today; thus my interest in what the dance scene had been like for him. What are the similarities and differences with dance today? And what got so many people so passionately interested in square dancing back then?

At a Fields/Glascock “inlaws & outlaws” family reunion held on my cousin’s ranch in rural Idaho during the summer of 2003, I spoke with a number of older folks who had been active in the square dance scene back in the 1950s, asking about their experiences.

One of the most entertaining raconteurs was Rosamond Burgess, who has since passed on. Following are some of the vivid dance memories she generously shared. This paper will then offer stories from Hank Fields, and conclude with some observations about the square dance.

Rosamund Burgess: Dancing in Idaho

Rosamund Burgess
Rosamund Burgess

“We lived in Garden Valley, Idaho, where we square danced many years ago. In wintertime, our sawmill business was shut down, so there was an empty house across the river for those of us who stayed on. It was there for people who wanted to use it. And we’d square dance. Sometimes we even took our stuff over there for breakfast; we’d have breakfast before square dancing.

“There were at least five couples of us adults. We had one square of adults, and another square of kids. And two of the men were callers. They took turns. We had no music, but they took turns doing the calling. We’d spend all winter long up there, doing that. And then when we got together [for bigger dances] at the community center with those who were left in Garden Valley, we’d dance all night long.”

No Hall? No Problem: Dancing in the Streets

“Sometimes we’d dance all night long,” Rosamund laughed. “And I mean ALL night long. We’d always carry a little bit of extra food in the car, which you did in Garden Valley anyway, because you never knew when the roads were gonna be closed and you couldn’t navigate from one place to the other.

“We’d carry a bucket full of sawdust saturated with oil. If the roads were snowed in, we’d stop right in the middle of the road, get your bucket full of sawdust and oil out, get ‘em primed – and then set it on fire, just like a bonfire. Any car that came along would stop and gather around, and get out their chairs and their stools, and whatever – a block of wood – lot of cars would use their blocks of wood too, to burn ‘em. Sometimes we’d square dance right in the middle of the road.”

I was not sure I had heard her correctly. “These people would brew coffee and have a big party, right in the middle of the road?” I asked. She enthusiastically confirmed, “Right! On Sunday, or any morning you was making deliveries when it was cold.”

“If it was 4 or 5 in the morning,” I asked, “how’d you have enough light to find your corners for the allemandes?” Referring to the old song Buffalo Gals, she laughed merrily. “You know, you ‘danced by the light of the moon’? That’s what we did: we danced by the light of the fire, and the light of the moon. And if we happened to be close enough to a house, why they would turn the lights on for us – if they HAD lights. But a lot of places didn’t have their own power system. Sometimes, if one bucket-of-sawdust bonfire went out, you could go on to the other one. But if not, the person in the car that was coming behind you always had one. So we’d just let one go, and if it burned out, you could use somebody else’s.”

I thought about the craziness of holding a dance right in the middle of the highway at night. Wasn’t this taking an awful chance with your life? It turns out that no, there was no danger of getting run over, because any car that came along would see the fire and stop. Then those folks would join in the dancing too!

Community Life

Rosamund’s mention of the cold seemed to imply that this spontaneous firelight-dancing was a seasonal event. So I asked, “This only happened in the wintertime, because in the summertime you were too busy working?”

“Right, in the logging business. Loggers and sawmill. It was a small sawmill there, where my husband worked. There was two schoolhouses, three classes to each room. Went clear up to the sixth grade!” She laughed. “There was two teachers. Each teacher had three grades that they taught.”

This was the early 1950s. “That’s not that long ago,” I observed, thinking of how poignantly different her traveling and dancing experiences were from those of modern square dancers today. To me, her story sounds like a scene out of a frontier movie.

“No, that’s not that long ago. It’s a difference of living in the mountains and living in the city. Or living in a community. We lived in a community, a very close-knit community. It was very interesting. Um… we had no telephones. But you always knew what your neighbor was doing, because we had a communication system.”

Roads Snowed In? – Dance!

More than once in the wintertime, the rural area they lived in got entirely cut off: no access by roads; no phone service even for those who had phones. Rosamund described one time this happened on a night they wanted to put on a dance. People were sitting around worrying about being stuck there away from home due to the inclement weather, so the church opened up for people to sleep over. The whole town wound up taking their breakfasts over there, and dancing together in the church for three days straight.

“In our town, the little village of Notus, there was a grocery store and a church and a community center. That was what the town consisted of. They’d usually open up the church to let all these people, the square dance caller and so on, so forth, come and stay all night if they wanted to stay all night. It was open anyway, but that night they used it for people who wanted to dance. We roped off a corner – now this was an invisible rope, just an area where you could put your kids down to sleep.” I asked to clarify, “Pile the coats up or something like that as a bed for them?” “Uh-huh,” she confirmed. “Uh-huh. You’d put your kids down to sleep, you know.

“But when the hill slid in that year – it took a car with it, by the way, which isn’t a nice story, but it did do that – we were slid in and we stayed in there for four days. It was a Saturday, and by Saturday night, the hill had slid in and we couldn’t get out, unless you walked over the top of the hill.” (Note: this “hill” is actually a mountain.) “So we just said ‘what the heck’, and just danced all night.” She chuckled over this memory. “Heh, heh! We’d go over in the corner and rest for awhile, then get up and dance some more.

“The store opened up, and the people that owned the store were there, and we could get stuff out of the store all of the time.

“Everybody really shared. We’d go home get some stuff and bring it back for those who were there that didn’t have a home to go to; didn’t have a place to go to. Cook food there, and square dance some more!

“Morning, noon, and night. We’d dance before breakfast, and after breakfast, and…anytime, all night long. Had enough callers to do it. It was a lot of fun.”

Why Only the Men Were Callers

“Were only men callers?” I asked, thinking about the details of Rosamund’s stories. She replied, “Yes. We didn’t have women callers at all.”

I wondered, “Were women callers frowned upon, or was it just kinda how it was?”

“Well,” she said, “that’s just kinda how it was. But anyway, the women had a rather full skirt!” She laughed heartily. Confused, I chuckled back, “Well, you can still call in a skirt!” She responded, “Oh, I’m sure my niece could have called as well as her husband. But a woman’s voice doesn’t carry as well as a man’s, usually.”

“Oh right,” I realized. “You didn’t have PA systems or anything, I guess.”

“No! No PA system. You just had to have a loud voice.”

Rich times in Idaho. It was not dissimilar 400 miles southwest in Alturas, California, where her cousin Hank Fields was furthering the dance.

hank fields
Hank Fields heading out on Sharon Enderlin’s horses, December 2000 (age 83). Photo by Tina Fields.

Hank Fields: Modoc County, California

Hank’s cousins brought him and his wife Tilla (Jacobs) Fields into square dancing in 1949, at dances held weekly in the old Scout Hall of their small rural ranching town of Alturas, in Modoc County, California. Hank quickly became enchanted with the dance, and began to also call and teach. Before he did that, it was rare for the community to have live callers; they danced to records that included both music and calling. Hank wound up calling square dances for 15 years, from 1950 to 1965, until the family moved to Nevada.

Square Dance Takes Off

What originally inspired so many people to want to participate in square dance at that time?
One answer is that, in the 1940s and 1950s, Hollywood began to make a lot of western films and TV programs, many of which featured old time dancing, including square dancing. Naturally, since the big stars were doing it, interest in these dances took off. The following are a few examples:

  • 1939 Gone With the Wind (Clark Gable; includes a very fast Virginia Reel)
  • 1939 Destry Rides Again (Jimmy Stewart & Marlene Dietrich)
  • 1939 Drums Along the Mohawk (Henry Fonda)
  • 1940 The Westerner (Walter Brennan & Gary Cooper)
  • 1942 Star Spangled Rhythm (Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, & Fred MacMurray)
  • 1945 Sheriff of Cimarron (cowboy hero Sunset Carson dances)
  • 1946 Duel in the Sun (Lloyd Shaw hashes “Birdie in the Cage”)
  • 1946 My Pal Trigger (Roy Rogers; has square dancing on horses!)
  • 1949 Square Dance Jubilee
  • 1950 Summer Stock (Gene Kelly & Judy Garland)
  • 1950 Square Dance Katy
  • 1950 Copper Canyon (Ray Milland; Les Gotcher calls!)
  • 1950 Hillbilly Hare (Animated cartoon. Bugs Bunny calls!)
  • 1955 Oklahoma
  • 1956 Giant (Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, & James Dean)
  • 1956 The Searchers (John Wayne)
  • 1958 Indiscreet (Cary Grant & Ingrid Bergman)

The compiler of this list, John Brant (n.d.), speculates that the postwar ideal of staying home to raise a family led many to seek “wholesome pursuits.” This desire, combined with fascination about the Old West fueled by these movies (and likely a yearning to wear their great cowboy costumes), made a nation ripe for square dance. [Brant]

Ironically, in rural Modoc County, California, this Hollywood ideal had a basis in actual everyday life for many of its ranching people. They must have felt very proud.

Square Dancing in Modoc

In the following excerpts from the local newspaper, Modoc County & Surprise Valley Record: The Best Paper in the Best Town in Northern California, you can see area residents’ growing interest in square dancing within a very short time span.

February 8, 1951: “Square Dance at Local High School.” “Something new in the way of entertainment has been started at the high school for adults. A class in square dance has been organized, and the first meeting of the group was held Monday in the social hall. Anyone interested in this old-time recreation is urged to attend the next class.”

January 13, 1955 – front page: “Alturas Trio Provide Calls for Square Dance. “The Alturas Allemanders entertained a large crowd of about 60 square dancers and children last Saturday night at their monthly Open Square Dance. Couples drove as far as Bieber and Lakeview to dance to calls by Hank Fields, Mickey Baldwin and Van Johnson. Van Johnson has called professionally for about four years and he and Mrs. Johnson instructed Square and Round Dancing in Wyoming and Montana. Hank and Mickey are rapidly growing closer to the professional class, having been asked to call dances at many Northern California and Oregon towns. The Allemanders have recently designated one night per month (the Tuesday following the second Saturday of every month) to Round Dancing instructions as given by Fay Stahl-Schmidt.”

To give you the context of the place and time, here are other articles from that paper in 1950:

  • “Telephone dial system to be put in.” (8/31/50) “‘Number Please’ to be replaced by a humming sound, the dial system’s way of saying ‘Number please, you may now dial the number you want.’”
  • “Fee Charged at Six Forest Campgrounds.” (5/11/50, Sports section) “They are going to begin charging a 50 cent fee for up to 6 folks camping–as an experiment. . . .”
  • “Flying News.” (1950) This regular front page column documented everyone who landed or flew out of the airport this week.
  • “California Ready for (Atomic) Bomb Attack.” (8/17/50)
Fay and Don Stahl-Schmidt
Fay and Don Stahl-Schmidt cutting up at a dance in Alturas, California.

A typical dance evening in Modoc went like this: two square dances, then one round dance, then repeat. (A “round dance” is danced with everyone in a single circle formation instead of multiple squares. They are often mixers.) In addition, the first square would be a regular patter square and the second a singing square. (A “singing square” is an easier square dance that is sung-called to a popular tune, and dancers can sing along with the chorus while they dance.) This made for some interesting, yet comfortably predictable, variety.

Unlike nowadays, most evenings were not called entirely by one person. Men would call the squares and a woman would usually call the round dances.

For a special dance, sometimes there’d be only one caller for the whole night–if he had been “hired” (in other words, a pro). This happened maybe one time a month. For the regular open dances, Hank taught two other guys beside himself to call: Ron Telford and Mickey Baldwin. All three would call at these dances, taking turns. That meant that every week, Hank would usually call only one to two dances in an evening.

modoc maniacs
The “Modoc Maniacs” (Mickey Baldwin, Hank Fields, and Ronnie Telford, all of Alturas), featured callers at the Tenth Annual Silver State Jubilee Festival in Reno, Nevada. Clipping from the Modoc County Record (1957).

The Reno, Nevada dancers jokingly named the trio the “Modoc Maniacs.”

Here’s the program for the Allemanders’ first Jamboree, as mailed out to clubs by the Alturas Merchants’ Association and printed on the front page of the local newspaper:

“Square Dancers to Romp Here in Jamboree with Callers, Dancers from Three States: Oregon, California, and Nevada

August 18-19, 1956 — First Jamboree, Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 1 pm

  • Doug Fosbury – Callers choice.
    Round Dance – Blue Pacific
  • Inez Baker – Truck Stop Grill; 12th Street Rag.
    Round Dance – Canadian Barn Dance.
  • Bill Mayhew – Callers choice; Pianola Hoedown.
    Round Dance – South.
  • Ronnie Telford – Hey Ma!; Swing All Eight.
    Round Dance – Black & White Rag.
  • George Churchill – Santa Fe Stinker; Forward 6.
    Round Dance – Tennessee Wig Walk.
  • Bob Waller – Tweedle-e-dee; When Your Baby Swings With You
  • Mick Baldwin – 3 Ladies Chain; Callers choice.
    Round Dance – Calico Melody
  • Art Schuck – We’ll Dance Till Sunday Morn; Saturday Night.
    Round Dance – Memories are Made of This.
  • Howard Yeager – Little Red Hen; Cotton Picker.
    Round Dance – Penny Waltz.
  • Hank Fields – Hash ‘n’ Breaks; Callers choice.

Three Trophies will be awarded:

  • Visiting club with largest representation
  • Club from farthest away
  • Oldest square dancing couple

Dances include Santa Fe Stinker, Hey Ma! and the round dance Blue Pacific.”

Besides their weekly dances, the Allemanders enjoyed putting on special events like that Jamboree, a Hobo Party (24 squares of people dressed like hobos), monthly summer dances outside in the park (10 squares), and New Year’s Eve dances, with a very nice potluck dinner afterwards.

The Western StatesYou must remember that this is a very small town we’re talking about here; one sited in the middle of a high altitude desert region, which means neither quick nor easy to get to from other places. That many people attending means that square dancing was a popular activity in those days.

The Music and Calls

It was a rare occasion when they had a live band to dance to. Instead, Hank had a collection of records in two metal boxes that he carried to dances, along with his record player, speakers, and calling mic. Some records had the tune on one side, and the tune with calling on the other so folks could still dance even if no local live caller was available. He taught himself to call by listening to these recordings of professionals calling. He’d then write out the dances by hand, and practice calling them while taking long walks until he knew them by heart.

Besides square dance records, Hank had a collection of round dance recordings too. But sadly, many of these are now lost. “I loaned my records to a guy here [in Alturas] once who wanted to learn calling,” he explained. “A second book of calls was in the box there too. And the damned knothead left ‘em in the back of his car. It got hot, and warped every one of them.”

les gotcher
Les Gotcher

I asked Hank if he had ever become a professional caller. “No. A pro came around a few times–Les Gotcher [pronounced “GOAT-chure”]. He was really good at that hash, boy–that’s where they keep changing the calls; you don’t know what’s coming next. He was my favorite caller. The pros would make tours, cover so much ground, then go back home. Les came out with a new square dance magazine, Sets In Order. Came out every month. It was little, and sometimes had new calls in there. One time, Les came around for no fee, except everyone had to subscribe to his magazine.”

Inspired by Gotcher, Hank came to specialize in “hash” calling.

“The first time I did it,” he said, “I worked it all out in my head and made the dance up. Then I memorized it, and then sprang it on them at a dance.

“Real hash is all made up on the spot, all improvised. It’s tough because you have to remember who began where and with whom, and somehow get everyone back home – and with their partner. But when you can pull it off, there’s nothing more fun. The dancers just love it because they never know what’s coming next…One guy said to me after, “You have fits like that often?”

At this memory, Hank laughed. Then he went on: “I don’t mean to brag or anything, but several guys commented that I was the best damned caller we’d ever had. It all comes down to enthusiasm. Enthusiasm, and being relaxed. You got to have enthusiasm in your voice. If you’re having fun, the dancers feel that and they will too.”

New Year's party, 1953
New Year’s Eve 1953, potluck dinner held after the dance in Alturas, CA. Photo by Fay Stahl-Schmidt. In the photo, as Fay Stahl recalls, L to R: Mickey Baldwin’s oldest daughter Jackie, Iris Turner’s daughter, young Mickey Baldwin Jr., Mickey Baldwin, Hank Fields, Tilla Fields, [somebody] Brister, Mrs. Brister, son of Brister, Shorty [somebody], husband of Shorty, Don Stahlschmidt, Faye Stahlschmidt, two unknown gents & mystery woman on end. Coming around to the right side, the bald man is Toots Thomas, the woman with glasses is Iris Turner, & the elderly woman in front is Neva Mapes, county clerk.

He and Ron Telford began inventing spontaneous hash together. “Sometimes, me and Ron would switch off. Whatever we’d put into the dance, that would change it. That was later on, when Ron got to be a pretty good caller.”

Whatever snarly knots the one created, the other had to improvisationally untangle on the fly. Tag-team hash: what a measure of calling skill!

Improvisational variation by the caller is part of what makes square dance fun. It needn’t be complicated. The point is to break up the monotony of repeated calls with a little spicy variety.

At times, this sort of improv can get downright goofy, prompting uproarious laughter. I remember one in particular from Hank’s calling: “Walk right up and bend the line, then swing around with ole Frankenstein.” Such calling also carries the nice side effect of inspiring dancers to listen closely to the caller at all times.

It’s interesting to note that calls in those days were oriented toward the men alone:

Walk all around your right hand lady,
See-saw your pretty little taw…

Contemporary callers and dancers may find such this sexist, along with some of the language intended to be cute, such as referring to the woman as “your little red hen.” Similarly, the call to promenade “Indian-style,” meaning single file, could be seen as racist. It’s heartening to reflect on how the overall level of awareness about such issues has grown since the 1950s.

Teaching the Basics of Square Dance

In the fall and winter, when there wasn’t much else going on in ranching country like Modoc County, Hank also taught a square dance class for interested newcomers every Tuesday evening for months on end. He did this for no charge; just for love of the dance and as local interest grew, a desire to bring more people in on it. That’s when he also taught others to call. In 1953, they averaged attendance of around 100 every week.

The elementary school donated their All-Purpose Room for free. Keeping money out of the equation surely contributed to this dance’s wild popularity in the community.

hank fields dance notebook
The inside cover of one of Hank Fields’ dance notebooks.

Hank’s first classes were only eight weeks long, but as the dancers began wanting to travel and dance with other clubs, they needed more skills, so some of his classes began to run much longer–8 to 9 months. “You could figure on it lasting all winter,” he said. “You start from scratch, where people didn’t know anything about it, and bring ‘em on up. If they come every week, by the time we’d get through, then they’d be pretty good dancers.

“They got three levels of square dance lessons now – Basic, Advanced, and sort of a show type dance, where you really gotta know what you’re doing. When I was first calling, there was just the one.”

Along with his record collection, Hank carried around a number of dance calling books consisting of loose-leaf paper in small drugstore binders. They included not only the calls themselves written out by hand or manual typewriter, but also some of his calling calendars, evening programs, lesson notes, observations about particular moves, and so on. Some of these went missing over the years, but we still have five of them to work with.

Paper-clipped to the back of his calling book #1 was a handwritten list of 45 moves to teach. Modern Western Square Dancers (MWSD) will find this interesting to contrast with today’s lessons of 69 standard moves.

Square Red Hot
Heads one-three Change girls
Sides two-four Pass chain
Honor (bow) your partner Star Promenade
Allemande left Wheel around
Right and left grand Wagon wheel
Promenade (Indian style) Throw in the Clutch
Swing Daisy Chain
Right and left thru Box the Gnat
Pass thru Box the Flea
Four in line  
Forward eight Star Twirl
Around one Stock the wheel
Split the sides Bend the Ends
“U” turn Wheel to a Line
Do-Sa-Do Bumperoo
Star Right and left Double Star Twirl
  Eight Chain thru
Half-sashay Grand Chain eight
Re-sashay Crosstrail right
Ladies Chain Cut-across
Centers Arch Crosstrail
Twice around Chain thru
  Dixie Grand eight

allemandersOver the Years

Over the years, Hank taught hundreds of people to square dance. At a potluck celebration in 1953, the club of 105, including a graduating class of 70 new “bona-fide square dancers” surprised him with the gift of a gold wristwatch engraved with the words, “Thanks, Hank!” It is still one of his most prized possessions.

In this photo (Modoc County Record 1953), you can see the people gleefully pointing to it on his wrist (second row back, middle-right, the guy with the mussed hair and big grin). The cowboy-booted fellow in the front row is Ron Telford, Hank’s protégé and later his calling buddy. Hank’s wife, Tilla, my mom, is the pretty woman in the front row middle with crossed arms, in a flowered dress and glasses. I don’t know who that woman is on his lap.

The End of an Era

Hank Fields quit calling dances around 1964. He had been traveling a lot to call square dances. He called not only in Alturas but also other remote places regularly – and remember, this was just a hobby.

“Something had to give,” Hank said. “Once a month, I’d quit working at 5 and drive clear over to Burns or Bend (Oregon), or Reno (NV), that’s 200 miles! – call a dance, then turn around and come right home.” The dance began earlyish and went till 10 or 10:30 pm or so. With breaking down equipment, talking afterward, and driving, that meant arriving home around 3 or 3:30 a.m., then getting up again around 7 to go to work at 8.

“Somewhere in my stuff I’ve got books with dates. I kept track of all my dances I called–kept a little log. One year, I averaged a dance every other night. That’s too damned many! No kidding, that was the busiest year I’ve ever had. It got terrible, sometimes seven dances in one week. I once called eight whole dances, by myself, in one week. Two on Sunday. And that included traveling all over the place, too. Calling that much, you gotta be careful you don’t strain your voice. I had a friend in Klamath who strained his voice, and he was never the same after that.”

There was another factor, too: these dances were hard on his wife. In square dance those days, you stuck with one partner of the opposite gender for the entire evening. Hank’s being the caller meant that he didn’t dance, so Tilla became a wallflower. She would travel all that way with him and only get to do a few mercy dances when other men’s wives voluntarily sat one out for her. Or she would stay home, alone.

The last straw came one day when Hank couldn’t get back home in time after a flying job. “I was supposed to come back to Alturas that night to call, but then [my client] had to stay over in Los Angeles. So I had to call Ron Telford and get him to take my place. This happened again–twice–and that wasn’t good. Imposing on Ron like that. So I gave up the calling.

“In retrospect, I really should have only given up the outside calling, and only called around here. . . .But I just got too damn busy. I was flying; I had that chainsaw shop where I was working on small engines, repairing and selling; flying cross-country runs for some real estate guys, plus teaching flying; I was married, had a wife and a little girl to take care of; I was running that tow truck in the wintertime, taking calls at four in the morning to go up the mountain to get some guy unstuck from the pass; and on top of all that I was calling dances all over the damned country–it just got to be too much, that’s all there was to it, and something had to give.”

Concluding Observations

The Future of the Dance: A Call for Simplicity

Our family moved to Reno, Nevada in 1965. Hank did not call squares again, but in the mid-1970s when I was 13, he signed us up for a basic level MWSD class with the Wagon Wheelers club so I could learn and then our family could go to dances together. But after the class ended, he had little heart to continue.

Why not? Because the dance form had changed.

“The calls is getting so complicated that it’s not as much fun,” he sadly explained several times over the years. “They put in too many moves, and they’re called too fast. You have to think too much.” He ruefully shook his head. “Like that last dance we went to; that one girl had a hell of a time because she kept missing the moves. That’s all right, but to me, it took a lot of the fun out of it. Best is to find slack somewhere where you [dancers] could express your feelings. In these modern styles, you’re kept too busy listening to what’s going on.” [Fields, H.]

He also dislikes that there’s little emphasis anymore on calling on the beat. He misses the rhythmic enthusiasm in callers’ voices, and the coherence this engenders.

Talking with Hank makes me think of the differences between square dance and contra dance. Club squares require weeks or months of training, whereas a sufficient number of the basic contra moves can be learned in one 45-minute lesson. Contras are much simpler, with the sequence of each dance repeating so that after a few times through, the caller need not call at all anymore. The dancers can then begin to move independently; part of one big geometric flow led by the music.

My research shows that part of the appeal of community dances like contra lies in its ability to create a state of collective ecstatic trance. Fields, Tina, 2006 Each dancer becomes one molecule in the whirling body of something greater, and at times, a sense of communitas Turner, Edith arises: differences like age or status disappear and for that time of simply moving together in sync as a group, life feels meaningful and full of joy. In more complicated contras when we have to “think too much,” as Hank said, I’ve noticed that this does not happen. It’s still fun, but it’s a very different experience. Fields, Tina, 2010 It sounds as if in the old days, square dances were, in this sense, more like contemporary contras. They also enjoyed the widespread popularity that contra does now. Is there perhaps a correlation?

Hank reflected on how he would participate if he were a caller today.

“In hindsight, I wish I’d just have given up calling ‘out’ and called around home. Then I’d have stuck with it. And I’d have called the easier calls. Not to say they [the more complicated dances] aren’t good; there are some good maneuvers in there. But you had to listen so close that it took the fun out of it. . . . Didn’t take all the fun out, but took a lot of it out. If I were running a class now, I’d just teach the basic moves. I think more people enjoyed that than they did the later stuff. What the new caller in Alturas is teaching now, it’s more than the basic stuff, but not too damn far away from it. That’s good.”

Seasonal Rhythms: A Reflection

In the stories of these elders, I’m struck by how seasonal the dance was in rural western areas during the 1950s. Both in Alturas, California and in Garden Valley, Idaho, square dance was a pursuit for winter, when there was less work on the land (sawmill, ranching, farming, logging, hunting and the like) to do. The community would then come together to weather the hardships of travel in snow, cold, hunger, and loneliness, by dancing. No money was involved. Little to no technology was needed or even considered–even in the absence of live music (treasured but rarely available or even sought after for these square dances), the caller used a portable record player with a small plug-in speaker—when they had electricity available. But they had no full sound systems in the halls like we regularly do today, and in some cases, they didn’t even have lights. Of course, for the bigger dances, they did have those things.

The point is, square dance for them was part of a larger urge to create a deep sense of community. And the particular rhythm that both Hank Fields and Rosamund Burgess speak of echoes a rhythm of many pre-industrial peoples worldwide. It’s an ancient human pattern, based on the realities of living in synchronization with the natural world: in winter when it’s cold, you slow down, come together, take care of one another, share what you have, make your own entertainment, and thereby find simple yet abiding joy.

Works Cited

  • Burgess, Rosamund. Personal Interview, Council, ID. 3 July 2003.
  • Brant, John. “The Hollywood Connection: Movies helped to fuel Square Dancing’s rise in popularity.” Vic and Debbie Ceder’s Square Dance Resource Net, n.d. Web. 4 May 2011.
  • Burgess, Nadine. “Rosamund Burgess in later years”. 2002. Photograph. 
  • Fields, Henry C. (“Hank”). “Square dance calling notebooks” [unpublished personal collection, handwritten: five binders plus several loose folders]. Alturas, CA. 1949-65.
  • —. Personal interviews. Alturas, CA, Council, ID, and Boulder, CO. 1998-2015.
  • Fields, Tina. “Contradance: Weaving Community Through Geometric-Pattern Trance Induction.” Conference Presentation. Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness. Asilomar Center, CA. April 2006.
  • —. “Hank Fields heading out on Sharon Enderlin’s horses, age 83.” December 2000. Photograph.
  • —. “Trance Induction through Contra Dance: Weaving Communitas.” Conference Presentation. American Anthropological Association. Sheraton Hotel, New Orleans, LA. Nov 2010.
  • Modoc County Record [Alturas, CA]. “The Modoc Maniacs (Mickey Baldwin, Hank Fields, and Ronnie Telford, all of Alturas), featured callers at the Tenth Annual Silver State Jubilee Festival in Reno, Nevada” n.d. 1957. Photograph.
  • —. “Allemandars Gather.” n.d. 1953. Photograph.
  • Modoc Times-Call [Alturas, CA]. “Square Dancers to Romp Here in Jamboree with Callers, Dancers from Three States: Oregon, California, and Nevada.” 12 August 1956:1. Print.
  • —. “Dance Squares Total 24 at Hobo Fete,” p.10. February 28, 1960. Print.
  • —. “Monthly Square Dance Party in the Park Saturday.” July 7, 1960. Print.
  • Stahl-Schmidt, Fay. “Fay and Don Stahl-Schmidt cutting up at a dance in Alturas, CA.” Photograph.
  • —. “New Year’s Eve 1953, potluck dinner held after the dance in Alturas, CA.” Photograph.
  • Turner, Edith. Communitas: The Anthropology of Collective Joy. Palgrave MacMillan, 2012. Print.
  • [Unknown]. “Les Gotcher.” Photograph. n.d., n.p. Vic and Debbie Ceder’s Square Dance Resource Net. Web. 4 May 2015.

by Daniel J. Walkowitz, Ph.D.

Daniel Walkowitz, a social and cultural historian, recently retired as professor of history at New York University. His book City Folk: English Country Dance and the Politics of the Folk in Twentieth-Century America (NYU Press, 2010/2014) served as the background for the documentary film, City Folk: The Story of Pinewoods and English Country Dance in America (Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, 2015). A folk dancer for over fifty years, Daniel has danced with Narad, a Balkan troop in Baltimore, The Chelsea English Country Dancers in New York, and he has called and danced with Country Dance New York since 1992.

On December 23, 1914, on a bracing cold morning with temperatures hovering in the mid-twenties, the SS Lusitania docked in the harbor of New York City bearing the renowned folklorist Cecil Sharp, chair of the English Folk Dance Society (EFDS). [New York Times, Dec. 24, 1914: 15. The ostensible reason for Sharp’s visit was to reprise the dance sequences that he had staged for Granville Barker’s ground-breaking London production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Barker’s New York production. But the theatrical assignment also offered Sharp the opportunity to pursue his personal interests in advancing English country dance in America. [A fuller account of Cecil Sharp’s times in the United States can be found in chapters four and five of my book: Daniel J. Walkowitz, City Folk: English Country Dance and the Politics of the Folk in America (NYU Press, 2010/2014). Much of the evidence is drawn from the Cecil Sharp Collection at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, English Folk Dance & Song Society, most especially from his diary and correspondence.]

Several prominent American folkdance enthusiasts, who had attended one of the English country dance Summer Schools led by Sharp in Stratford, anticipated his arrival. Four, in particular—the New York folklorist and dance educator Elizabeth Burchenal, the Boston grand dame and social reformer Helen Storrow, Harvard professor of Dramatic Literature George P. Baker, and Pittsburgh’s Mrs. James Dawson Callery (her husband was a major industrialist)—characterized the social elite that formed the base of Sharp’s American constituency. They also developed a personal allegiance to Sharp that would inform the leadership role he was to come to play in English country dance in America. Affluent Anglophile tourists and researchers, these four had traveled to England at the same time as millions of poor immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, often seeking political asylum, had arrived on American shores to “flood” American cities, and they shared Sharp’s interest in advancing the English heritage of their ancestors.

Burchenal’s writings and her role in initiating robust folk dance programs in the Playground Association and the Girls’ Branch of the New York Public School Athletic League (PSAL) during the decade preceding Sharp’s arrival in New York, is representative of the group’s enthusiasms. Her views and activity in advancing English country dance as a social, educational and moral enterprise echoed Sharp’s opinions. The first of the American dance enthusiasts to study with Sharp, Burchenal did pioneering folk dance research in northern Europe, including in England. By 1907, under her leadership, 233 New York City teachers were teaching folk dance to 8,219 school children in 128 city schools. [Public Schools Athletic League, Girls’ Branch, and Elizabeth Burchenal, Official Handbook of the Girls’ Branch of the Public School Athletic League, 1908-09.] Such activity, she wrote, had great possibilities as a “Democratic Socializing Agent,” providing, in the words of her colleague Luther Halsey Gulick, the founder of the PSAL, “social ceremonial life for the boy and girl in their teens… [for] development of that social control which is related to the corporate conscience that is rendered necessary by the complex interdependence of modern life.” [Elizabeth Burchenal, “Folk-Dancing as a Social Recreation for Adults,” 9-12; Luther Gulick, A Philosophy of Play, 263-65.]

Burchenal stood ready to help Sharp upon his arrival in New York. Indeed, she had worked to advance his reputation for some time, most notably to complicate if not undermine the 1911 dance tour to America by Sharp’s one-time collaborator and more recent competitor, Mary Neal. [See also Derek Schofield and Rhett Krause.] In 1907, Neal and Sharp had worked together to establish English country dance and collaborated on a volume on morris dance. But by 1909, increasingly bitter differences between the two over the style of the dance—and ultimately over who would be the emergent movement’s authority—divided them. Neal’s Espérance dancers, a group of young girls drawn from the Espérance Club and Social Guild, a settlement house in northeast London that she directed for seamstresses, performed morris dances with a youthful exuberance; Sharp, wedded to the embodiment of the dance as graceful simplicity that would counter the perceived debauchery of the tango craze and music halls beloved by the immigrant working class, complained the Club had a low artistic standard that performed “a graceless, undignified, and uncouth dance quite unfitted for educational uses.” [Michael Heaney, “Cecil Sharp,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.] In December 1910, when Neal arrived with her leading Espérance dancer, Florence Warren, for their American dance tour, they found all their engagements had been canceled. Neal was told that a friend of Sharp’s—presumably Burchenal—had told all the New York societies and educators that the English education authorities had “thrown [them] over” in favor of Sharp. Neal and Warren managed to rebook their engagements and the New York Times heralded their performance as a refreshing example of the revival underway in England that the reporter hoped would reawaken the repressed spirit of the Anglo-American race. [Krause, “Morris Dancing in America,” 8; New York Times, January 23, 1911.] In a letter back to London, Neal crowed, “Cecil Sharp has done his best to poison people’s minds over here. But we are here and he is not! . . . . Nor do I think he will ever come now!” [Mary Neal to Clive Carey, December 30, 1911, Carey Correspondence, Sharp Collection, VWML.]

Mary Neal was one of two of Sharp’s predecessors to teach English country dance in America. The second, A. Claud Wright, one of the six original members of Sharp’s demonstration morris team, visited twice in the summers of 1913 and 1914. Harvard professor George Baker, captivated by Wright’s boldly energetic style of dance, invited him to visit and teach morris dance at Baker’s summer camp in Chocorua, New Hampshire—a predecessor to the summer dance camps to follow. Wright’s vertical style of dance and his energy won him an enthusiastic following in the select but receptive New York and Boston dance communities, notably with the support of both Baker and the wealthy patron Helen Storrow. For Wright, who came from modest means, the enthusiasm and money connections also translated into a potential career in teaching English country dance in America. This was not to be, however, for complicated reasons both personal and political. With the coming of the Great War, political pressures from Anglophiles on both sides of the Atlantic mounted on Wright to return to England and enlist. At the same time, Sharp had his own plans for America and the opportunities there, and they did not include Wright. As the war engulfed Europe and with increased reluctance by Americans to hire the youthful Wright, his plans for a third visit in early 1915 collapsed. Sharp now had the American field to himself. [See, Walkowitz, City Folk, 94-99.]

Neal’s and Wright’s visits had helped lay the groundwork for Sharp’s reception, but Sharp’s ascendance in their place—both over what was the “authentic” style of the dance as well as over who was to authorize it—fundamentally shaped the way English country dance came to be embodied in America. The spirit of the dance would be codified by “experts” like Sharp, rather than given the more free-form expression of the Espérance working girls; and rather than the athleticism of Wright, the dance would be moving and fluid but more restrained and contained, more horizontal than vertical.

Sharp and the Formation of the American Branch of the EFDS
The days during Sharp’s first month and a half in New York were filled with rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but he quickly moved to explore his possibilities as a lecturer on English folk song and dance. His success in teaching two country dances, Gathering Peascods and Hey Boys, Up Go We, to twenty young women at Susan Gilman’s fashionable studio in late January, 1915, convinced Sharp that he had a future in the United States, but that it was not as a lecturer. The success got Sharp’s mind racing. He began to envision sources of income that would alleviate his always-present financial anxieties; in awarding dance certificates, students would be encouraged to attend his summer school at Stratford-on-Avon and purchase back issues of the English Folk Dance Society’s Folk Music Journal. Moreover, Sharp began to envision establishing a permanent presence of the English Folk Dance Society in the U.S. Writing to Maud Karpeles, one of his demonstration dancers in London, he wished she were there to team with him to make it happen: “There is heaps of talk here of folk dance but absolutely no knowledge whatsoever…. If you were here, one demonstration would do the trick. [Sharp to Karpeles, January 25 and 19, 1915, MK/3-45, VWML.]

Sharp’s personal and, as director of EFDS, his institutional motivations were matched by his considerable organizational skills. Sharp was particularly fortunate to have an unusually competent assistant as well: back in London Maud Karpeles expeditiously handled his EFDS business and in her regular correspondence with Sharp, offered a steady stream of good advice. So, buoyed by the response of audiences, Sharp set up a course of six lessons (for a fee of $15) that culminated in an examination and presumably, if passed, a certificate. With Karpeles’ administrative assistance and a program strategy, he then set out to build a movement of dancers and dance leaders.

New York and Boston had well-established communities of dancers and Sharp’s prior contacts facilitated his entry into both. Elizabeth Burchenal used her social, institutional and financial connections to smooth Sharp’s reception in New York. As head of the Girl’s Branch of the PSAL, she had overseen the training of legions of folk dance teachers. She was also friends with important social reformers, such as Luther Halsey Gulick of the Playground Association, Boston’s Dr. Richard Cabot, a scion of the Brahmin Cabot family and renowned pioneer at the Boston Psychiatric Hospital, and Professor Farnham of Columbia University’s Teachers College. These individuals saw folk dance as an amelioration of the social stresses of urban, industrial life, and Columbia’s Teachers College was to be a training ground for folk dance as a form of physical education.

In Boston, Sharp quickly found he had a sympathetic friend in Helen Storrow. Within a week of his arrival in New York he was off to Boston to take up Storrow’s invitation to visit her at her Lincoln, Massachusetts, estate. The two hit it off right away and forged a lasting relationship. Storrow’s patronage—both institutional and financial—would forever shape Sharp’s fortunes as well as the future of English country dance in the United States. Storrow would train with Sharp and go on to teach English country dance in Boston. She also helped smooth Sharp’s introduction to Baker, who had been devoted to Wright, and to the dancers who congregated around Harvard and Wellesley College. And, ultimately, she would prove a benefactor to fund Sharp’s folk-song collecting work in America.

Finally, Sharp, using contacts with those individuals like Pittsburgh’s Mrs. Callery who had attended his Stratford classes, set off in early March 1915 on a whirlwind, three-week tour to teach, demonstrate and spread the gospel of English folk dance across the land. He found the trip, which took him to Boston, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, enormously encouraging. Surveying the whole of his tour, he reflected that he “could make a heap of money” in the United States, and in letters home he began to think of return trips. But, in the middle of his tour, word reached Sharp that supporters had agreed to meet in New York to consider the creation of an American branch of the English Folk Dance Society. [Sharp to Karpeles, March 4 and 15, 1915, MK/3-56; Sharp, diary, March 2 and 20, 1915.]

On March 19, 1915, a select group of English folk dance enthusiasts gathered with Sharp at lunch at a Miss Ware’s home to discuss the possibilities. The host seems to have been the sister of a local dancer, and “several others” from New York joined her. Storrow, Baker and a Mrs. Morris from Wellesley College represented the Boston dance community.

But Sharp was particularly concerned to have a representative of his own choosing direct the American branch, a person who, in his words, could function “as a central authority with respect to English folk-dancing.” He believed in the importance of a national movement and was also concerned to oversee teachers who would shape “authentic” English dance—authentic, that is, as he imagined it—in far-flung reaches of the country. For Sharp, then, the appointment of one of EFDS’s senior teachers whom he had personally certified to run the American branch was of paramount importance for English folk dance in the United States, for Anglo-American culture rooted in the dance tradition, and for folk dance as an ameliorative moral and social factor in America more generally.

Sharp knew early on that the challenge for him in controlling the American branch required that he negotiate the expectations of American stalwarts like Baker and Burchenal. Baker, Sharp acknowledged, had an interest in appointing Wright, and appointing someone else would be a “difficult matter to engineer.” Sharp noted he would have to “think straight & walk warily” if he was “to pull it off.” [Sharp to Karpeles, March 11, 1915, MK/3-57.] Burchenal was a problem of a different sort. Sharp and Baker, though they never developed a close relationship, remained respectful of one another; in contrast, ultimately, Sharp could not abide Burchenal. Storrow, perhaps trying to help Sharp negotiate competing interests from Boston and New York, proposed that the American branch be a subcommittee of the New York-based Playground Association then led by Burchenal. As we have seen, Sharp did not want the organization subject to anyone, much less to a person like Burchenal, whose ambition and will made him increasingly wary. Sharp, as the conflict with Neal had presaged, tended not to get along well with strong women who challenged him. In a sweeping indictment he dismissed both Burchenal’s considerable experience in the training of legions of folk dance teachers for PSAL and a relationship with the Playground Association itself asserting that the Association “produces no results in the way of folk-dancing as no one knows any!” [Sharp to Karpeles, February 23, 1915, MK/3-53.] On March 23, the solution agreed upon at a meeting at the toney Colony Club met Sharp’s concerns: the branch was to be based in New York but with officers from Boston: Baker and Storrow would be president and secretary respectively.

Equally important to Sharp, other developments coming out of this meeting jump-started his desire to create a national movement under the leadership of EFDS-trained protégés. The meeting authorized four centers of the American Branch: New York, Boston, Pittsburgh and Chicago. (Folk dancer Mary Wood Hinman, who directed a teacher-training school for dance and physical education in Chicago, had attended the Stratford Summer School in 1913.) In truth, at the time only New York and Boston had bona fide groups; cities like Pittsburgh and Chicago would struggle to muster enough dancers to sustain longways sets, and Sharp would in the next years travel to both to help build their dance communities. A surprise development at the founding meeting though showed a way forward: the Americans wanted Sharp to present, as he excitedly exclaimed in a letter that evening to Maud Karpeles, “a Summer School during the coming June!!!!!” [Sharp to Karpeles, March 23, 1915, MK/3-59.]

Thrilled with the prospect, Sharp moved to staff the Summer School with a teacher of his own choosing, a person who he expected would go on to direct the American Branch. Writing to Maud Karpeles, he asked her to offer the post first to her sister, Helen, another of his demonstration team, and if that failed to the young woman recently installed as the head of the Scarborough branch, Lily Roberts. Helen had, however, recently married another of the team members, Douglas Kennedy, and the offer thus went to Roberts. Sharp also insisted to Maud Karpeles that she would have to join them at the Summer School, a decision to which she happily agreed. [Sharp to Karpeles, March 23, 1915, MK/3-59, and March 26, MK/3-60.]

On April 21, 1915, Sharp set sail on the SS Adriatic for his return to England. In four months he had overseen the establishment of the first permanent folk dance organization in the United States, the American Branch of the English Folk Dance Society. Moreover, he had a cadre of devoted followers in organized dance groups in New York and Boston, and had planted the seeds of a national organization in Pittsburgh and Chicago.

Creating an Anglo-American Dance Tradition

sharp summer school
Summer School. Cecil Sharp is seated, hat on his lap, in the center of the front row. Photo courtesy of CDSS.

Sharp returned to the United States in June 1915 for six weeks, primarily to run the first American English folk dance Summer School. While preparing for the session, however, he became bedridden with excruciating back pain. Diagnosed with lumbago, he was confined to bed at the Storrow home where he had an unexpected bonus: a visit from Olive Dame Campbell and her husband John C. Campbell, the director of the Highland Division of the Russell Sage Foundation. Sharp had invited them to visit after hearing that Olive Dame Campbell had been collecting southern mountain ballads while accompanying her husband on his research trips, songs, he had been told, that were reminiscent of those Sharp had collected in the English West Country. Olive had other commitments that did not allow her to resume her collecting, but she encouraged Sharp to carry on her work. Sharp’s primary benefactor for his subsequent fieldwork research trips was Helen Storrow and her gift of $650 funded his initial trip in the summer of 1916. [Strangway and Karpeles, Cecil Sharp, 129-30; Shapiro, Appalachia on our Minds, 254-55; Whisnant, All That is Native and Fine, 113.]

The 1915 Summer School proved to be great success, one that Sharp and his followers would build into an enduring American English folk dance institution. After 1933, the American Summer School would be housed at Storrow’s former Girl Scout Camp named Pine Tree Camp (later called Pinewoods Camp), located between two ponds just west of Cape Cod, an institution which would prove to be a training ground for legions of American English folk dance teachers across the country for the next century. The meeting with Olive Dame Campbell, however, shaped how the American country dance community would come to imagine its tradition as part of an Anglo-American transatlantic movement.

Sharp returned to America in the spring 1916. He did not travel alone, however, as Maud Karpeles accompanied him. While historians have credited his exploratory folk-song collecting trips, they have underappreciated Karpeles’ role. Often described as his amanuensis, she nominally served as his secretary, agent, and confidant. This odd couple—she short and a youthful thirty-one; he tall, erect, formal, often sickly with lumbago and debilitating asthma, and twenty-six years her senior—were very much collaborators. The song collecting that they did were also extraordinary personal achievements made under arduous circumstances in which they walked, often miles, up and down dusty mountain roads. During the summers of 1916, 1917 and 1918 (wartime danger to ships did not allow them to return to England in 1917), they spent forty-six weeks visiting seventy to eighty small towns and settlements in the mountains of North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia collecting folk songs. According to Karpeles, Sharp “collected from 281 different singers a total of 1,612 songs, including variants, representing about 500 different songs and ballads.” [Karpeles, Cecil Sharp, 141, 168; Sharp to Karpeles, March 15, 1916, MK/3-75.]

The collecting had far-reaching consequences on both sides of the Atlantic for the development of an Anglo-American folk movement in both song and dance. A Harvard Shakespearean scholar steeped in the lore of “Merrie England”—Francis James Child (1825-1896)—had published a ten-volume collection, The English and Scottish Ballads between 1882 and 1889, but he did his research in Harvard’s Widener Library, not the field. [Filene, Romancing the Folk, 12-15.] By contrast, Sharp and Karpeles documented the living folk traditions in the southern Appalachian Mountains. As importantly, they and their followers attributed both “Englishness” and “peasant” meaning to these songs and dances. Early in his first trip in 1916, Sharp wrote in his diary that the people he saw were “very decidedly English.” Moreover, by the next month he had come to see them as a pristine version of the English peasantry—even “freer than the English peasant.” To Sharp, “they are exactly what the English peasant was one hundred years ago.” [Sharp, diary, July 26 and August 13, 1916.]

It was a “discovery” in dance among the mountain folk that most transported Sharp and confirmed to him the Anglo-American character of English country dance. One evening “after dark,” in early September 1917, while visiting the Pine Mountain Settlement School in Harlan County, Kentucky, “the air seemed literally to pulsate.” “One dim lantern and the moon lit up a wondrous sight of whirling dancers moving to “only the stamping and clapping of onlookers” and “the falsetto tones of the Caller.” Sharp had seen the “Kentucky Running Set,” a “most wonderful,” “strenuous,” “circular country dance” for four couples. [Sharp to Storrow, September 11, 1917, Storrow Correspondence, Box 3, Sharp Collection, VWML.]

The dance was unlike anything Sharp had ever seen and he came to believe he had “found” a critical missing piece in the history of English country dance that had been preserved in the backwoods by descendants of English immigrants. In the “Running Set,” they had preserved a “lineal descendant of the May-day Round, a pagan, quasi-religious ceremonial….” Sharp proclaimed the dance to be no less than the “sole survival” of a dance that had “preceded the Playford dance” and “once flourished in other parts of England and Scotland.” [Karpeles, Cecil Sharp, 163; Sharp, introduction to The Country Dance Book, Part V, 9-10, 13.]

Sharp, of course, romanticized English village life and wrongly characterized it as peasant; just as importantly, he did not appreciate the influences on mountain song from immigrant and African American cultures. Because English country dance had roots in colonial America among English colonists, Sharp’s “discovery” of its peasant purity was misguided, but his confirmation of it as an Anglo-American tradition was not completely off the mark. Contra dance and mountain square dance were American cousins derived from the English country dance tradition. So, Sharp’s discovery of the “Running Set” helped create the rationale for a national Anglo-American country dance tradition on both sides of the Atlantic, a formulation that would in time bring English country dance and Englishness and American country dance and Americanness under one roof in what would become the Country Dance and Song Society.

Sharp’s Legacy

Sharp and Karpeles remained in the United States until the Armistice in November 1918. He would not return to the U.S., and died on June 23, 1924. In the interim, both while in the U.S. and from his London base as Director of EFDS, he played a leading role in the establishment of the American branch. When not engaged in fieldwork in the southern mountains or running a summer school, he traveled tirelessly to dance communities. He had long identified college physical education programs with well-educated young women who often had a British heritage to be appropriate subjects for English folk dance. His 1915 American trip began with a May Day program for Wellesley College, but he regularly visited Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, Kalamazoo College in Michigan, and emerging Physical Education programs at the land grant universities in Midwestern states such as Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. In the mountains, in addition to visiting the Pine Mountain Settlement, he went to Berea College in Kentucky and subsequently published a book of folk tunes he collected there. In the Northeast and Midwest, in addition to Boston, New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh, he helped develop centers in Rochester, St. Louis and Cincinnati.

gadd 44 45
May Gadd, circa 1944-45. Photo courtesy of CDSS

With the appointment of Lily Roberts as the initial director of the American Branch, Sharp also ensured that English folk dance in the U.S. would embody the spirit of the dance as he knew it. A young social work educator, Richard Conant, attended a country dance that Roberts taught in October 1915 on the Storrow’s lawn in Lincoln and, smitten with each other, they married two years later in December 1917. Roberts continued to direct the American branch, but by 1926, as family life increasingly made that difficult, Douglas Kennedy, who had succeeded Sharp as Director of EFDS, was importuned to send over someone to assume the lead. In 1926, Marjorie Barnett, another of the English regional branch directors who had been trained by Sharp, arrived; however, she shortly took up a position at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester and the American branch needed yet another leader. And yet again, another Sharp-trained teacher arrived, this time, the leader of the Northumberland regional branch—May Gadd. In 1927, Gadd assumed the mantle of the national director of the American branch and that of the head teacher of the New York center, positions she would hold for the next forty-five years, until 1972.

gadd dancing
May Gadd dancing with Bob Hiber in the 1920s. Photo courtesy of CDSS.

In 1915, Cecil Sharp had played a leading role in the formation of the American branch. He then put the infrastructure in place to sustain it. The women he trained and appointed (or who won appointments after his death) worked faithfully as his surrogates, tirelessly advancing an Anglo-American country dance tradition as he had imagined and loved it. A century later, English folk dancing in America, even as it evolves and changes, still bears his imprint in its repertoire, its embodiments, and its commitment to what he celebrated as “gay simplicity.”


  • Boyes, Georgina. The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology, and the English Folk Revival. New York: Manchester University Press, 1993.
  • Brickwedde, James C. “A. Claud Wright: Cecil Sharp’s Forgotten Dancer.” Folk Music Journal, 6, no. 1 (1990): 5–36.
  • Dowing, Janet. “So Who Was Mary Neal Anyway?” Shave the Donkey, 2007.
  • Filene, Benjamin. Romancing the Folk: Public Memory & American Roots Music. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
  • Fox Strangways, A. H., and Maud Karpeles. Cecil Sharp: His Life and Work. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933.
  • Gulick, Luther Halsey. The Healthful Art of Dancing. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1910.
  • Judge, Roy. “Mary Neal and the Esperance 545-91. Morris.” Folk Music Journal 5, no. 5, 1989: 545-91.
  • Karpeles, Maud. Cecil Sharp: His Life and Work. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1967.
  • Krause, Rhett. “Morris Dancing and America prior to 1913.” Country Dance and Song, no. 21 (1991).
  • ———. “Morris Dancing and America prior to 1913, Part II.” American Morris Newsletter 17, no. 2 (1993): 12–27.
  • Neal, Mary. “As A Tale That Is Told: The Autobiography of a Victorian Woman.” London: Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, n.d.
  • Rodgers, Daniel T. Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.
  • Ross, Janice L. “The Feminization of Physical Culture: The Introduction of Dance into the American University Curriculum.” PhD dissertation, Stanford University, School of Education, 1997.
  • Shapiro, Henry D. Appalachia on Our Mind: The Southern Mountains and Mountaineers in the American Consciousness, 1870-1920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978.
  • Thompson, Allison. May Day Festivals in America, 1830 to the Present. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2009.
  • Tomko, Linda J. Dancing Class: Gender, Ethnicity, and Social Divides in American Dance, 1890-1920. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.
  • Walkowitz, Daniel J. City Folk: English Country Dance and the Politics of the Folk in Modern America. New York: New York University Press, 2013.

by Derek Schofield

Derek Schofield has been involved in folk music and dance in England since he was at school. He is the recently retired editor of English Dance & Song magazine (published by the English Folk Dance & Song Society), and has also contributed to the Folk Music Journal, fRoots magazine and other specialist publications in the UK. He is the author of two books on the history of folk festivals in the UK: The First Week in August: Fifty Years of the Sidmouth Folk Festival (2004) and Towersey Festival: 50 Years in the Making (2014). He also wrote substantial biographies of Headington Quarry Morris musician and dancer, William Kimber, and of traditional Shropshire singer, Fred Jordan, for the booklets which accompanied their CDs. His research interests lie in the history of the folk music and dance revivals.

In December 1914, Cecil J. Sharp boarded the RMS Lusitania and set sail for the USA. The First World War had started four months earlier and his son Charles had already joined the armed forces. Uppermost in Sharp’s mind might well have been the progress of the war, the safety of his son, and leaving his wife Constance behind in England. He may have thought about the male dancers from the English Folk Dance Society (EFDS) already serving in the armed forces. Sharp may also have reflected on the previous 15 years, and on the remarkable impact that folk song and dance had made on his life.

Cecil Sharp
Cecil James Sharp — Photograph courtesy and copyright English Folk Dance and Song Society. Not to be copied without permission.

Cecil Sharp was born in 1859, the son of a slate merchant. He was educated at Uppingham School and then coached for entrance to the University of Cambridge, reading mathematics at Clare College, although a university friend commented that Sharp spent more time on his music than on his mathematics. [For Cecil Sharp’s early life, see Fox Strangways. This was written “in collaboration with Maud Karpeles,” who later partly rewrote the book, published as Karpeles 1967. Both publications are uncritical of Sharp’s contribution. More critical approaches to Sharp’s life and work have been published in Boyes 1993, and in Harker 1972 and 1985. More sympathetic treatment of Sharp’s contribution has come from Bearman 2000, 2001 and 2002. For Sharp’s period in Australia, see Anderson 1994.] On graduation, Sharp’s father suggested that he seek his fortune in Australia, and he left England in the autumn of 1882. He worked in a bank and as associate to the chief justice of South Australia, but also involved himself in the musical life of Adelaide. From 1889 on, he devoted himself entirely to music, becoming joint director of the Adelaide College of Music. When the partnership was dissolved in 1891, he returned to England, arriving home in January 1892. Determined to make his living through music, in 1893 he became the part-time music teacher at Ludgrove School, remaining there throughout the main period of his folk song and dance collecting, resigning in 1910. In 1896, he was also appointed Principal of the Hampstead Conservatoire. In August 1893, he married Constance Birch.

The start of Cecil Sharp’s interest is folk song and dance is usually dated to Boxing Day (December 26) 1899. The Sharp family were spending Christmas at the home of his mother-in-law in Headington, east of Oxford. The Headington Quarry Morris Dancers, with their musician William Kimber, performed outside Mrs Birch’s house, Sandfield Cottage, and attracted Sharp’s attention. Their usual performance date was Whitsuntide [Ed.: the religious holiday of Pentecost, celebrated on the seventh Sunday after Easter: in 2016 this will be on May 15], but it was a particularly hard winter and many of the dancers, including Kimber, had been laid off from their jobs in the building trade. This exhibition was an opportunity to earn some extra money. After the dancers had performed, Sharp came out of the house and asked Kimber to return the following day so that he could note down the tunes. This he did, and Sharp noted five tunes. [See Schofield 1999, and Grant 1999 for details of this first meeting between Kimber and Sharp. Schofield includes transcripts of Kimber’s account of the first meeting.]

It is often claimed that the Boxing Day meeting was the turning point in Sharp’s lifei but in fact he did little more than note and orchestrate the tunes. Certainly, he had little or no interest in the dances themselves. That would come later.

Folk Song

As a music teacher in a preparatory school, Sharp would have considered both teaching methods and repertoire for school singing lessons. [For Sharp’s role in music education, see Cox 1993 and Schofield 2004. In England, a preparatory school (such as Ludgrove) is a fee-paying school which prepares 8- to 13-year-old children for entrance to a fee-paying private or independent school (confusingly also called “public” schools in England), such as Eton, Harrow and Uppingham. Elementary schools were established in 1870 and catered for the children of working people; by 1900, attendance was compulsory for 5- to 11-year-olds. They were replaced in 1944 by primary schools.] There was a view that the song repertoire in many schools, preparatory and elementary, was trivial, although increasingly from the 1860s onwards, specialized song books for schools were being published. After nine years at Ludgrove, Sharp set about producing his own book of school songs published in 1902, A Book of British Song for Home and School.

Sharp’s awareness of folk song is clear in this 1902 collection, with 40 percent coming from existing folk song collections, such as Broadwood and Fuller Maitland’s English County Songs, 1893. Yet he had had no experience of hearing the songs as sung by working people–a situation that was rectified in 1903.

While he was in Australia, Sharp had made friends with an outspoken Christian Socialist minister in the Church of England, Charles Marson. He returned to England in the same year as Sharp and, after working as a curate in London’s Soho district, he became perpetual curate in the village of Hambridge, Somerset. [For details of Marson’s life and work, see Sutcliffe 2010.] In August 1903, Sharp visited Marson in Hambridge and it was there that Sharp heard his first folk song sung by a member of the rural working class. It would appear that Marson had already heard the singer, the appropriately-named John England, singing the song that Sharp collected, The Seeds of Love, and had invited Sharp to visit and hear the singer. Over the following week or so, Sharp—assisted by Marson—collected a total of 42 songs in and around Hambridge, most notably from the sisters Louie Hooper and Lucy White. Just a few months later, in November, Sharp gave a lecture in London on folk song, with musical examples provided by trained, classical singers. The lecture was extensively reported upon in the national newspapers, and during the Christmas holidays, Sharp was back in Somerset, collecting more songs, and he again delivered the lecture, this time in Taunton.ii

Sharp was already setting himself up as an authority on folk song, even though his experience “in the field” was quite limited. He was not, of course, the only folk song collector at the time. The Folk Song Society had been established in 1898 to bring together the collectors who were already active, such as Lucy Broadwood, Sabine Baring-Gould and Frank Kidson, as well as others who were interested in the subject. Sharp had joined the Folk Song Society in 1901, but by 1903 the Society was moribund, due mainly to the illness of the secretary, Kate Lee.iii Sharp launched an attack on its inactivity and was elected to the committee, along with the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams who had also started collecting folk songs in 1903.

Sharp’s initial impetus for collecting folk songs was for use in schools, and in 1905 he collaborated with Baring-Gould in the publication of English Folk-Songs for Schools. Not all his fellow Folk Song Society committee members agreed with him that teaching the songs in schools was a desirable aim. Conflict within the committee increased when they welcomed the government’s Board of Education Suggestions for the Consideration of Teachers, published in 1905, which included recommendations for using “national or folk songs.” For Sharp, it was folk song or nothing, and he publicly criticised the inclusion of “composed” patriotic songs such as Tom Bowling and Hearts of Oak. The committee refused to back him.iv Sharp’s response to this, and to other challenges as to the value of folk song, was to write English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions, which appeared in 1907.

Vic Gammon has identified three motivating ideas behind Sharp’s folk song collecting and promotion (ideas that could also be applied to his views on dance): romantic nationalism, aesthetic Darwinism and national regenerationv. Gammon dates Sharp’s ideas back to eighteenth-century romanticism and the folklore studies of the nineteenth century, which combined with the racial or nationalist view that English folk songs are distinctive and should be known by English people. Aesthetic Darwinism can be seen in the three principles that Sharp recognised in folk song: continuity, variation and selection. National regeneration can be seen in the importance Sharp placed on education: he wanted folk songs in elementary schools “to effect an improvement in the musical taste of the people, and to refine and strengthen the national character”vi.

The pattern of Sharp’s folk song collecting followed the academic year, with the Christmas, Easter and summer holidays giving him the opportunity to explore Somerset in particular, though he ventured into other counties as well. Sharp produced a series of books, starting with Folk Songs from Somerset, published in 1904, and contributed songs to the Journal of the Folk Song Society, especially the 1905 issue. [The English folk songs collected by Cecil Sharp were edited for publication by Maud Karpeles, see Karpeles 1974. His fair copy manuscripts, bequeathed to Clare College, Cambridge, are now available on The Full English online digital archive,] The publicity that surrounded Sharp’s activities encouraged others to collect folk songs, with, for example, the Hammond brothers concentrating their efforts in Dorset and George Gardiner working in Hampshire. In total, Sharp collected almost 3,000 folk songs in England alone between 1903 and his death in 1924.

Morris Dances

One of the crucial opportunities for introducing English folk song to young adults as well as to children came in 1905. Herbert MacIlwaine, musical director of the Espérance Club for working girls in London, read a newspaper interview with Cecil Sharp and suggested to the club’s leader, Mary Neal, that such songs could be added to the club’s activities. Neal met Sharp and after the songs proved to be such a success, she asked him if there were any dances the club members could learn. This was the start of the morris dance revival. [Information on Mary Neal and the Espérance Club is contained in Dommett 1980, Judge 1989, Schofield 1999, Neal 2014 and Martz 2014. The Neal 2014 reference is to a manuscript autobiography that was published on the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) website in that year. It was written in 1937-39.]

Mary Neal. Photograph courtesy and copyright English Folk Dance and Song Society, with thanks to Lucy Neal. Not to be copied without permission.

Clara Sophia Neal (1860-1944)–later known as Mary–was the daughter of a Birmingham button manufacturer. She had a deep social conscience about the living and working conditions of the London urban poor and, like others with similar concerns, became directly involved in helping, through the mission and settlement movements. At the West London Mission, Neal met Emmeline Pethick and, in 1895, they established a separate Espérance Girls’ Club to introduce drama and dance as a leisure-time activity for working-class girls. This was followed by the complementary tailoring business, Maison Espérance, which provided improved working conditions and pay. Pethick was the club’s musical director, being replaced by MacIlwaine after her marriage to Frederick Lawrence.

An important issue at the time was women’s suffrage. Women did not have the vote in Britain, and middle-class women in particular led a restrictive lifestyle: charitable good works was a way in which they could express their freedom, but living away from home, as Neal and Pethick were doing, was more adventurous. The period leading up to the First World War saw an increasingly militant campaign for the suffrage cause. Mary Neal was already a committed socialist and supporter of the emerging Labour Party, and after Pethick-Lawrence met Manchester-based Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the two friends threw their support behind the campaign. With Sylvia Pankhurst, they established a London branch of the WSPU in 1906–Neal took the minutes at the inaugural meeting. Some of the suffragettes took part in civil disobedience, although Neal was not one of them. She did however write about the cause for the magazine, Votes for Women, but her principal concern at this time became the revival of folk song and dance.

When Neal asked Sharp about dances, he recalled his experience at Headington and recommended that she contact William Kimber, who visited the club’s headquarters twice to teach, with the girls learning enough to give a private display of morris dancing on February 15, 1906. This went so well that a public performance, An English Pastoral, was given on April 3, 1906, preceded by a lecture by Sharp; all extensively reported in the national press. Sharp was still embroiled in his battles with the Board of Education over the inclusion of folk songs in schools, but now he had another aspect of traditional folk culture to promote, with the positive experiences of the Espérance Club girls giving weight to his argument about the value of genuine folk material, plus the added physical education value of the dancing. As Roy Judge has written, “Both of them [Neal and Sharp] wanted to use these songs and dances, not simply as a nostalgic entertainment, but as an instrument for good.”vii

The success of An English Pastoral led to Neal being asked to send her girls to teach the dances elsewhere–by the end of the year, they had visited six English counties and six London clubs. Neal was a born organiser, Sharp was the musician and “historical scholar.”viii However, it was Sharp’s co-author, MacIlwaine, who devised the system of dance notation, and notated the dances, not from Kimber’s dancing but from the Espérance principal dancer, Florrie Warren, for the first edition of the first volume of The Morris Book, published in April 1907.

As an “historical scholar,” Sharp’s knowledge of morris dancing was limited and he needed to expand his direct experience. In the summer of 1908, Sharp noted the dances in Winster, Derbyshire. His chance overhearing of two sewer workers whistling morris tunes in a London street in 1906 provided leads in Gloucestershire which resulted in the collection of dances from Bledington (1909), and Longborough and Sherborne (1910).ix In 1909, he also collected dances from Bampton, followed by Field Town in 1910-11. All the time, he was gaining confidence in notating the dances and, with MacIlwaine’s assistance, in refining the published notation system. The second Morris Book was published in 1909, the third in 1910 and the fourth in 1911. Sharp then produced a new edition of the first book in 1912, and book five in 1913. New editions of books two and three were published after the war. [For a summary of the various books and editions, with a list of which village traditions were represented, see Karpeles 1967, 203-04. Volumes I to III were written by Sharp and MacIlwaine, volume IV by Sharp alone and volume V by Sharp and George Butterworth. For Sharp’s morris dance collecting in this period, see Judge 2002.]

Sharp was also changing his theoretical approach towards morris dancing. In the first Morris Book, he suggested that it was “in all reasonable probability Moorish in origin.”x By the second edition, Sharp believed that the Moorish origin “will not bear examination” and instead regarded morris as “the survival of some primitive religious ceremonial.”xi

Sharp and Neal were two strong-willed individuals, and their close co-operation did not last long. At the root of the rift between them were the issues of how best to transmit the dances from the traditional dancer to the new revivalists, and how to maintain a good standard of performance. Sharp regarded himself as the conduit for transmission: he would collect the dances, often from elderly village dancers, make a clear notation and publish the dances. Having established a fixed notation, revival teachers and dancers could then refer to that notation to ensure that performances were reaching the correct standard. On the other hand, Neal’s view was that the dances were “ever-changing, ever-evolving” and that “they should be learnt in the first instance from the traditional dancer and passed on in the same way. The written instructions are only useful as a reminder of steps and evolutions, and should never be made an unalterable and fixed standard.”xii Neal’s comment in April 1910 that the morris revival had to ensure that “the blighting touch of the pedant and the expert is not laid upon it” is clearly an attack on Sharp.xiii

The earlier mention of the women’s suffrage movement is also relevant to the discussion of folk song and dance. Cecil Sharp was a Fabian socialist, but he does not appear to have had much sympathy for women’s suffrage, in contrast to his sister Evelyn Sharp, who was involved in both the Labour Party and the women’s suffrage movement. She became editor of Votes for Women, to which Mary Neal contributed, and was imprisoned for her activities.xiv Neal’s suffrage politics were a further reason for Sharp’s disengagement from her.

A consideration of the rift between Neal and Sharp is not just of historical interest. As Judge wrote in 1983: “[a]lso significant is the fact that Neal’s approach to the morris tradition has a considerable appeal for the contemporary dancer, with her view of it as ‘simple, dignified, vigorous and joyful’, combined with her regret for ‘the necessity of books of instruction.’”xv Such a comment is even more appropriate to the contemporary English scene 30 years after Judge wrote it, but if Neal’s approach now seems attractive, it does not necessarily mean that this approach was right at the time, when there was much less knowledge and understanding of morris dancing. The written notations and Sharp’s field notes have allowed subsequent generations to see how the dances had been performed in the early twentieth century, and to interpret them in various ways.

The dances attracted the interest of educationalists, but at first the only teachers available came from the Espérance Club. Beginning in March 1909, Sharp and Kimber taught morris dances to women teachers at Chelsea College of Physical Education, London. In September, Sharp’s School of Morris Dancing opened at the Chelsea College, providing Sharp with adult dancers to give demonstrations and teach. The dancers included Helen Kennedy (Douglas Kennedy’s sister), Maud and Helen Karpeles (Helen later married Douglas Kennedy) and, when the School was opened up to men, the composer George Butterworth and Douglas Kennedy.xvi

In August 1909, the Board of Education published its new Syllabus of Physical Exercises for Public Elementary Schools, which recommended the teaching of morris dances in schools. The fact that Sharp’s teachers were college-trained, in contrast to Neal’s working-class girls, obviously gave him an advantage with the educational establishment.

Mary Neal’s visit to the USA for three months beginning in December 1910 took her away during a critical period, thus allowing Sharp to gain ground, and there was a further blow when her principal dancer, Florrie Warren, who had accompanied her, stayed in the States to marry Arthur Brown.xvii

Sword Dances

Starting in the summer of 1910, Sharp was able to add a new dance form to his repertoire: the sword dance. First there was the long-sword dance from Kirkby Malzeard (collected in May and September), followed by Grenoside near Sheffield (August), before Sharp travelled to north-east England to note the short-sword dances at Swalwell and Earsdon. All these dances were published in 1911. He visited Flamborough (December 1911) and Sleights in north Yorkshire (January 1912), plus Beadnell in Northumberland and published those dances in 1912. Part III of the sword dances book contained the Escrick, Handsworth, Ampleforth, Askham Richard and Haxby long-sword dances, and the Winlaton and North Walbottle short-sword dances. [In addition to Sharp Sword 1911, 1912 and 1913, for the long-sword dances see Allsop 1996 and Davenport 2015, and for the short-sword dances see Cawte 1981, Heaton 2012 and Metherell 2012. Cawte and especially Heaton both consider the derivation of the term “rapper” for the short-sword dances, and also the origin of the flexible swords.]

The first long-sword dance to be displayed by Sharp’s dancers was in December 1910, and the short-sword dance debut was February 1911. They both had a great impact on the audiences. The Chelsea School dancers provided a group of willing volunteers to try out the complexities of these dances, and assist Sharp with a new notation style.xviii

Social Folk Dances

With the growing enthusiasm for folk dancing from adults of both sexes, Sharp must have recognised that he would also need to add some social dances to the evolving repertoire of display dances.

In September 1906, Sharp collected a broom dance while on a visit to the Devon folk song collector Sabine Baring-Gould, and in April 1907 he returned to collect five country dances. In June 1909, Sharp collected eight dances in Surrey from a man who was originally from Devon. Finally, in September 1909, Sharp visited Armscote, Warwickshire, and there collected nine country dances from a group of dancers led by master of ceremonies, Thomas Hands from nearby Honington. [For more details of Sharp’s folk dance collecting, see Schofield Everyday Dance 2011.] 

By the end of 1909, Sharp had published all these dances (apart from the broom dance) in The Country Dance Book, Part I: eighteen dances in total (some of the 22 dances were duplicates). The introduction to this volume reveals some of Sharp’s views about both folk song and dance:

… the unlettered … have always sung the songs and dances of their forefathers, uninfluenced by, and in blissful ignorance of the habits and tastes of their more fashionable city neighbours. But this is, unhappily, no longer so. … In the village of today the polka, waltz, and quadrille are steadily displacing the old-time country dances and jigs, just as the tawdry ballads and strident street-songs of the towns are no less surely exterminating the folk-songs. … [The country dance is] the ordinary, everyday dance of the country-folk, performed not merely on festal days, but whenever opportunity offered and the spirit of merrymaking was abroad.”xix

The collected dances presented a problem for Sharp. In the section of the book on the steps to be used for the dances, he wrote: “The usual Country Dance step is a springy, walking step . . . . The gallop, waltz and polka steps are occasionally used.”xx When Helen Kennedy saw the dancers from Armscote dancing in Stratford-upon-Avon a few years later, she noted that they used the polka step throughout.xxi Sharp was intent on promoting these dances as a further example of traditional English folk culture, but they utilised a dance step from a continental European dance form that had been introduced first into fashionable society. Sharp’s intentions were set out in his Introduction to the 1909 volume: “Many of these older dances [in Playford’s The English Dancing Master (1651)] are extremely interesting, and some of them, deciphered from the old dancing books, will be described in the second part of this work.”xxii

The second part of The Country Dance Book was published in 1911, and contained 30 dances from various editions of the Playford collection: 19 from the first edition (1651), two each from the second and third editions, six from the fourth and one from the seventh. By relying so much on the first edition, Sharp was able to include dances in what he regarded as the “older forms of the dance” such as rounds, squares and longways dances for various numbers, rather than just the “longways for as many as will” that dominated later editions.xxiii Further selections from the Playford editions were published by Sharp in 1912, 1916 and 1922. After the first part of The Country Dance Book, Sharp published no further traditional dances from England, although he did collect some, for example from Goathland in north Yorkshire.xxiv

Sharp wrote: “[f]or those interested in the revival of folk-dancing, it [Playford] is the only book in which the English Country Dance, in its earliest, purest, and most characteristic forms, is described.”xxv Nevertheless, his approach here contrasts with folk song and the morris and sword dances where he always insisted on collecting folk material from traditional, oral sources.

Sharp was not interested in publishing the Playford dances for the purposes of historical re-enactment; his interpretation was for contemporary enjoyment. Keller and Shimer have written:

He saw them as lost folk dances which, with some modification for modern dress and deportment, could be enjoyed just as much as they had been many years before. Although he tried to keep as close to the original as possible in his reconstructions, he leaned heavily on the movement and style of the traditional dances he had collected.xxvi

Sharp used the absence in Playford’s editions of any indication of the dance steps to suggest five steps that “are still used by traditional dancers” such as the “springy walking step” though not the polka, gallop and waltz steps which “are obviously of more modern derivation.”xxvii

Sharp was including the traditional country dances in his lecture-demonstrations very soon after The Country Dance Book Part I was published. [In October 1909, Sharp was being encouraged to provide teachers of country dance immediately: see Judge 1989, 560. Morning Post 1910 indicates that Chelsea students were demonstrating country dances at a Sharp lecture in April 1910, and it is unlikely that this was the first occasion.] By early 1911, “Sharp was drawing markedly ahead of Neal in the range of his available repertoire.”xxviii A presentation to the Worshipful Company of Musicians in January 1911 included folk songs, morris dances, traditional and Playford country dances, morris jigs from Kimber and a long-sword dance.xxix The following month, a rapper dance was included in his lecture, making the Sharp-determined repertoire for the folk dance revival complete. [Sharp did not include the broom dance in any of his publications, and he also failed to notate any of the maypole dances or step and clog dances he encountered. He similarly neglected morris dances from Lancashire and Cheshire and from the border counties with Wales. The inclusion of all these folk dances in the English folk dance movement had to await the post-1945 revival.]

English Folk Dance Society

English Folk Dance Society dancers at Cheltenham, circa 1920-1922, dancing Bonnets so Blue. Photograph courtesy and copyright English Folk Dance and Song Society. Not to be copied without permission.

By 1911, some of the keenest dancers associated with the Chelsea College School of Morris Dancing had formed the Folk Dance Club, which met in the home of the Karpeles sisters. Members of the club illustrated two of Sharp’s lecture-demonstrations that year, in May and on the first of At the latter event, notices were distributed for a public meeting on December 6, 1911 at which the English Folk Dance Society was founded, “with the object of preserving and promoting the practice of English folk-dances in their traditional form.”xxxi According to the press report of the meeting, Sharp stated that “the folk-dance movement was primarily an artistic movement” but that it was “very liable to suffer at the hands of philanthropy, for philanthropists would see philanthropy in it and nothing else. A movement of that kind was subject to the ravages of the Philistines on every side.” An aim of the people setting up the new organisation was to “keep that particular artistic movement on its right lines and prevent it from being vulgarised and popularised, although they aimed at popularising it in the best sense of the word.”xxxii

Sharp’s comments at the meeting were a very open attack on the activities of Mary Neal and her dancers. Neal had reviewed the December 1, 1911 dance lecture-demonstration for The Observer newspaper, in which she stated that the dancing was “beautiful, graceful and charming, so much so that I do not feel able to criticise it, for it falls into the category of the art and not the folk dance . . .that they are not folk dancers I do know, for beautiful and graceful as their dancing is, it is far removed from what I saw at Bampton at Whitsuntide.”xxxiii

Examples of the style of dancing referred to by Neal can be seen in the six Kinora reels that were rediscovered in the 1980s.xxxiv They show Cecil Sharp, George Butterworth and Maud and Helen Karpeles dancing morris dances and one country dance, probably in 1912. As Heaney wrote, two of the films are “eye-openers for anyone familiar with Bampton as danced, and usually as taught, today.” [For the founding of the English Folk Dance Society, see also Schofield 1986 and Schofield 2011 Earliest Days. ]

These films from 1912 feature sisters Maud and Helen Karpeles, Cecil Sharp and composer George Butterworth dancing Hey Boys, Up Go We at about minute 3:20.

In February 1912, Sharp’s men’s morris side made its first appearance. The dancers included George Wilkinson, Perceval Lucas, George Butterworth and Reginald Tiddy–all of whom were to die in the Battle of the Somme in the First World War–plus Claud Wright, James Paterson and Douglas Kennedy.xxxv

efds demonstration team
English Folk Dance Society Demonstration Team, Kelmscott, June 1912. Left to right: Douglas Kennedy, George Butterworth, James Paterson, Perceval Lucas, Claud Wright and George Wilkinson. Butterworth, Lucas and Wilkinson all died in the First World War. Photograph courtesy and copyright English Folk Dance and Song Society. Not to be copied without permission.

Although the EFDS was based in London, it was intended to be a national organisation. Within a year, there were county or town branches in all regions of England. Sharp’s experiences with the morris dances as well as with the Board of Education and the Folk Song Society with song had convinced him that he needed to control what was being taught and performed, as well as how. Neal remained active, although by 1914 the balance had shifted dramatically in favour of Sharp and the EFDS.xxxvi During the First World War, Neal worked for the war effort and afterwards became a magistrate in Sussex; after MacIlwaine’s death, she adopted his son. Until the 1970s, her role in the founding of the folk dance and song movement was ignored or even disparaged by the folk movement. [The change in attitude towards Neal came as a result of the women’s morris movement in England, as well as the writings of Roy Judge and Roy Dommett and the encouragement of the former Library Director of the EFDSS, Malcolm Taylor. See Schofield Morris Wars 2013. Mary’s great-great-niece, Lucy Neal, deposited Mary Neal’s autobiography and other papers belonging to Mary Neal, plus the results of her own researches, in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Lucy Neal is the current vice-chairman of the board of trustees of the EFDSS.]

In February 1914, Sharp arranged the music and dances for a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Harley Granville Barker. At the end of that year, and after the start of the First World War, Granville Barker asked Sharp to help with the play’s New York production. With most of Sharp’s folk dance and song activities suspended because of the war, and with little prospect of making a living in Britain, he accepted the invitation, hoping to also obtain some lecturing opportunities in America. And so, in December 1914, he set sail for the USA.


  • i Fox Strangways 27.
  • ii Schofield 2004.
  • iii Bearman 1999.
  • iv Fox Strangways 58-63, Gammon 15-17, Boyes 66-7.
  • v Gammon 11-16.
  • vi Sharp 1907, 135.
  • vii Judge 1989, 551.
  • viii Judge 1989, 552.
  • ix Burgess 2002.
  • x Sharp and MacIlwaine 1907, 15.
  • xi Sharp and MacIlwaine 1912, 10-11.
  • xii Kidson and Neal, 170.
  • xiii Neal 1910.
  • xiv John 2009.
  • xv Judge 1983, 545.
  • xvi Karpeles 1967, 75-6; Judge 1989, 557, 560.
  • xvii Neal 2014, 160-61; Krause.
  • xviii Cawte 2003.
  • xix Sharp, Country Dance 1909, 7-8, 10.
  • xx Sharp Country Dance 1909, 25.
  • xxi Kennedy 1955, 158.
  • xxii Sharp Country Dance 1909, 12-13.
  • xxiii Sharp Country Dance 1911, 8.
  • xxiv Schofield Goathland 2013.
  • xxv Sharp Country Dance 1911, 26.
  • xxvi Keller and Shimer, x.
  • xxvii Sharp 1911, 20, 28-31.
  • xxviii Judge 1989, 567.
  • xxix Ibid., 567.
  • xxx Kennedy 1924.
  • xxxi Morning Post 1911.
  • xxxii Morning Post 1911; Schofield 1986.
  • xxxiii Neal 1911.
  • xxxiv Heaney 1983.
  • xxxv Kennedy 1925.
  • xxxvi Judge 1989, 572-74

Works Cited

  • Allsop, Ivor. Longsword Dances from Traditional and Manuscript Sources. Ed. Anthony G. Barrand. Brattleboro: Northern Harmony, 1996.
  • Anderson, Hugh. “Virtue in a Wilderness: Cecil Sharp’s Australian Sojourn, 1882-1892.” Folk Music Journal 6.5 (1994): 617-52.
  • Baring-Gould, Sabine and Cecil J. Sharp. English Folk-Songs for Schools. London: J. Curwen, 1905.
  • Bearman, Christopher James. “Kate Lee and the Foundation of the Folk-Song Society.” Folk Music Journal 7.5 (1999): 627-43.
  • Bearman, Christopher James. “Who Were the Folk? The Demography of Cecil Sharp’s Somerset Folk Singers.” Historical Journal 43.3 (2000); 751-75.
  • Bearman, Christopher James. “The English Folk Music Movement 1898-1914.” Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Hull, 2001.
  • Bearman, Christopher James. “Cecil Sharp in Somerset: Some Reflections on the Work of David Harker.” Folklore 113.1 (April 2002): 11-34.
  • Board of Education. Suggestions for the Consideration of Teachers and Others concerned in the work of Public Elementary Schools. London: HMSO,1905.
  • Board of Education. Syllabus of Physical Exercises for Public Elementary Schools. London: HMSO, 1909.
  • Boyes, Georgina. The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology and the English Folk Revival. Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press, 1993.
  • Broadwood, Lucy and J.A. Fuller Maitland. English County Songs. London: Cramer, 1893.
  • Burgess, Paul. “The Mystery of the Whistling Sewermen: How Cecil Sharp Discovered Gloucestershire Morris Dancing.” Folk Music Journal 8.2 (2002): 178-94.
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  • Cawte, E.C. “Watching Cecil Sharp at Work: A Study of his Records of Sword Dances Using his Field Notebooks.” Folk Music Journal 8.3 (2003): 282-313.
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  • Keller, Kate Van Winkle and Genevieve Shimer. The Playford Ball: 103 Early English Country Dances: As Interpreted by Cecil Sharp and His Followers. London: Dance Books, 1990.
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  • Neal, Mary. As A Tale That Is Told: The Autobiography of a Victorian Woman. 2014.
  • “Old English Dances.” Morning Post, 21 April 1910. Copy in Press Cuttings Book, volume 5, in Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, London.
  • “Revival of the Folk Dance: An Artistic Movement.” Morning Post, 7 December 1911. Copy in Press Cuttings Book, volume 6, in Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, London.
  • Schofield, Derek. “‘Revival of the Folk Dance: An Artistic Movement’: The Background to the Founding of The English Folk Dance Society in 1911.” Folk Music Journal 5.2 (1986): 215-19.
  • Schofield, Derek. Booklet accompanying the CD Absolutely Classic: The Music of William Kimber. CD03. London: EFDSS, 1999. The CD was reissued on the Talking Elephant Music label in 2010, TECD161, but without the substantial booklet.
  • Schofield, Derek. “Sowing the Seeds: Cecil Sharp and Charles Marson in Somerset in 1903.” Folk Music Journal 8.4 (2004): 484-512.
  • Schofield, Derek. “The Everyday Dance of the Country Folk.” English Dance & Song 73.1 (Spring 2011): 12-13.
  • Schofield, Derek. “Earliest days.” English Dance & Song 73.4 (Winter 2011): 10-11.
  • Schofield, Derek. “The Morris Wars.” fRoots 357 (March 2013): 36-7.
  • Schofield, Derek. “Sharp visits Goathland again, in search of country dances.” English Dance & Song 75.2 (Summer 2013): 27-8.
  • Sharp, Cecil J. A Book of British Song for Home and School. London: John Murray, 1902.
  • Sharp, Cecil J. Folk Songs from Somerset. 5 vols. Taunton & London: Barnicott & Pearce, 1904-09.
  • Sharp, Cecil J. English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions. London: Simpkin, Novello; Taunton: Barnicott & Pearce, 1907.
  • Sharp, Cecil J. and Herbert C. MacIlwaine. The Morris Book, Part 1. First edition. London: Novello, 1907.
  • Sharp, Cecil J. and Herbert C. MacIlwaine. The Morris Book, Part 2. First edition. London: Novello, 1909.
  • Sharp, Cecil J. The Country Dance Book, Part I. London: Novello, 1909.
  • Sharp, Cecil J. The Country Dance Book, Part II. London: Novello, 1911.
  • Sharp, Cecil J. The Sword Dances of Northern England. Parts I, II and III. London: Novello, 1911, 1912, 1913.
  • Sharp, Cecil J and Herbert C.MacIlwaine. The Morris Book, Part 1. Second edition. London: Novello, 1912.
  • Sutcliffe, David. The Keys of Heaven: The Life of Revd Charles Marson, Socialist Priest and Folk Song Collector. Nottingham: Cockasnook Books, 2010.
  • Walkowitz, Daniel J. City Folk: English Country Dance and the Politics of the Folk in Modern America. New York University Press, 2010.

by Leanne E. Smith

Leanne E. Smith is editor of the North Carolina Folklore Journal. She has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. Her writing has appeared in Flannery O’Connor Review, North Carolina Folklore Journal, Encyclopedia Virginia, and NC Food. Several of her photographs have served as cover images for Tar River Poetry. Leanne teaches writing at East Carolina University, is active in the Folk Arts Society of Greenville (NC) and the Green Grass Cloggers, and plays fiddle for square dances.

In the realm of folk arts, history often grows as narrative details pass forward through generations like a game of telephone. For the American team dance form called clogging, eighty years is a fairly short history compared to some folk traditions. The roots of this dance style—in which groups wear costumes and execute figures and steps that are amplified by the dancers’ tap shoes—are traceable to a particular time and place widely accepted as the genesis: the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival (MDFF) in Asheville, North Carolina, in the early 1930s. In her book Appalachian Dance: Creativity and Continuity in Six Communities, Susan Eike Spalding’s observations from the communities in which she conducted her research—particularly the “dynamic nature of tradition as it continuously evolves, and the individual and group creativity involved in shaping that evolution”—also apply more widely to the development of clogging. [Spalding, p. 7] Older forms of social group dance and casual solo percussive dance merged in the MDFF’s performance-competition environment, and ever since then, the performers’ desire to appeal to an audience has been the strongest influence in the emergence and evolution of clogging from an improvised pastime to a prescribed system of choreography and competition.

Clogging stems from the American tendency to blend, and it persists amid enduring conundrums about tradition and stylistic ideals in relation to figures, footwork, and music. The MDFF’s first forty years, and by default, team clogging’s first forty years, saw a generational turnover in dancers as the early ones retired and newer ones took up the dance, which over time led to stylistic changes and divides. Some early-style teams would not use unison footwork, and their freestyle percussion came to be called “traditional” in competition categories. Eventually, some groups pursued unison footwork, which became termed “precision” clogging. Both the more freestyle traditional dance and the precision style involve routines consisting of partner-based circular, square, and line figures. Those first forty years also coincided with technological advances that allowed for easier travel, enabling groups to share the dance form beyond local venues, the electronic amplification of instruments that prompted the use of taps on shoes to make the steps more audible, and socioeconomic changes that prompted multiple waves of public gravitation towards real or imagined pasts, which helped fuel interest in the clogging dance form that many people thought of as traditional.

Then in the 1970s, halfway through team clogging’s first eighty years, there came a surge of interest from young counterculture college students from Eastern North Carolina that coincided with ongoing innovations and trends towards standardization in competition clogging, and that further contributed to the spider-web fracturing of style in the clogging community that continues today in both competition and performance contexts. Historically, costuming for team clogging was rurally-inspired, and the music was live old-time or bluegrass. Increasingly, however, choreography for groups doing what is known as “contemporary” clogging has become less partner-based and less figure-oriented. Some contemporary groups never dance to live music, just recordings of country and even hip-hop music, and spandex and sequins are as prevalent as western-style shirts and billowing crinolines used to be. The forty-year co-evolution of separate strains has resulted in disparate, though all performance-driven, percussive dance forms that now share the term “clogging.”

The Parents: Group Figure Dancing & Solo Percussive Dance

The parents of team clogging—group figure dancing and solo percussive dance—have long histories in the cultures that mingled in Colonial America. Square dance historian Dorothy Shaw mapped the genealogy of American square dancing from the fifteenth century to the twentieth, showing modern square dancing’s descent from British and European continental solo and group dances, country dances and court dances, dances in rounds and squares, and quadrilles with offshoots in New England and the Southern United States. [Casey, p. 2] The lineage in Shaw’s chart is a New World continuation of Old World dance documentation. Historically, dance documenters recorded more about court dances rather than folk forms. Today, centuries later, dancers can interpret period notation to recreate historical dances such as Italian and French court dances from the 1500s and the English dances published by John Playford’s press in the various editions of The Dancing Master. In contrast to these dances of the European upper- and middle-classes, the percussive dance forms that came to and evolved in the United States experienced what Mike Seeger described as a “long period of development devoid of sufficient documentation.” [Seeger, p. 12]

In Talking Feet, Seeger’s landmark collection project of the 1980s, his observations about dance influences on Southern clogging are still accepted as the general history:

There has been virtually no visual documentation, and very little written description, of traditional Southern solo stepdancing, so that any “history” of its origins and development will have to consist largely of continuing, interesting conjecture. I hesitate to add to the existing folklore about the origins of solo Southern foot dance but will make a few basic observations. I believe that to get some idea of the process of Southern vernacular dance development, we must consider it in parallel with its companion music and the dominant cultures that have mixed to produce it: British, African, and to some extent, Native American. [Ibid., p.10]

Nearly three decades after Seeger’s work, Spalding’s book adds significant context to the scholarship of regional figure dancing and percussive dancing. She describes how “the region was never as homogenous, as poor, or as isolated as was once believed” and that theatrical and social dance was available in the region from the late eighteenth century through the nineteenth century when “a wide assortment of dance forms and styles were introduced to the region by various means: through community social dancing, via the stage, in educational settings, and with the interchange of the growing number of cultural groups in the region.” As industries developed, immigrants of at least twenty nationalities who brought their dance traditions with them lived in the region along with African American southerners. Spalding even points out that the “basic clogging step has a rhythm strikingly similar to polka.” [Spalding, pp. 11-24, passim]

The half-dozen decades preceding the start of the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival where team clogging began saw the development of regional dance from innate pastime to intentional performance. One of the early stages in this process was how some travel writers’ portrayals of Appalachian mountain areas influenced public perceptions of the region. Ronald Lewis argues that the characterization of Appalachia as “backward” in local color works and travel articles has “persisted in part because so little formal written history about preindustrial Appalachia exists to provide a measure of empirical authenticity. . . .[h]istorically, writers have assumed that the conditions they found in the twentieth century were held over from earlier frontier days.” [Lewis, p. 22]  Spalding observes that, of the characterizations of Appalachians as “either backward hillbillies or noble carriers of pure Anglo-Saxon culture . . . . neither image was accurate, but both helped to draw a group of people to the mountains who would also contribute to the evolution of the regional culture: settlement school workers”—such as at Pine Mountain Settlement School (PMSS) in eastern Kentucky where Cecil Sharp recorded observations of dance (Kentucky set running) in 1917. [Spalding, p. 16]

Spalding further argues that, in contrast to the American folklorists’ tendencies to “discover unique American expression,” Sharp’s “beliefs were formed in the context of European folklore theory, in which customs existing in the present were assumed to be survivals from ancient times.” He had a forum for his romanticized analysis in his published works, and the directors at PMSS liked the idea of “being home to an ancient dance.” Even though he had been impressed by the local set running, Sharp taught English country dances at PMSS. Spalding notes that, as a result of the new historical narrative, “English folk dance was used to connect with a theoretical ethnic heritage and to offset and mediate with contemporary dance and music trends.” The widely distributed references to dance in the United States—particularly Sharp’s observations from his Appalachian travels and encounters with local dance at PMSS, and the marketing of festivals like the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival—helped to associate figure dancing and percussive dancing with mountain people and culture in the minds of the public. [Ibid., pp. 139, 138, 132]

Yet, prior to the increased separation of rural and urban societies and the transition in some areas from agricultural to industrial economies, people from similar cultural and economic backgrounds as those present in Appalachia could have shared some similarities in dance and music. And they did. Music associated with Appalachia, and the dance that the music inspired, did exist outside of the mountains, as the popular culture particularly of rural areas. It is a fluke of history that traditions continued in the mountains long enough for documenters to record them—and that timing has resulted in a popular misperception of old-time music, figure dancing, and solo percussive dancing as mountain dance. It was mountain dance, yes, because it was there in the mountains—but communities beyond the mountains had figure dance and percussive dance traditions similar to the forms from which clogging grew.

In fact, several communities in North Carolina’s Piedmont region in the center section of the state, the Coastal Plain in the eastern region, and on the coast were home to figure dances and people who did percussive dancing. [Carlin p. 73, Sutton, Baker, Howard, Howard “Dance.”] Even just the names of dance figures related to oysters and clams invoke awareness of lifestyles and locations closer to the ocean than the mountains. Bob Dalsemer, former president of the Country Dance and Song Society and retired coordinator for music and dance at the John C. Campbell Folk School, observed dancing on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, in 1992 and concluded “…we can no longer characterize the ‘big circle’ style of square dancing as Appalachian when it has proven to have existed on this remote seacoast island.” [Dalsemer “Old Time,” p.11] Yet, such figures became the foundation to which percussive footwork was added for team clogging in the mountains. Western North Carolina dance caller Glenn Bannerman includes “duck for the oyster” in his list of common small circle figures into which sets of two couples break within the traditional big circle dances. [Bannerman] Combinations of big circle and small circle figures for sets of six or eight couples are required in today’s “Traditional Appalachian” precision and traditional competition categories. [2014-2015 NCHC]

In the mountains, dance had long been a regional pastime, and Spalding notes that “[l]ocal audiences copied dance moves they observed on stage, taking them into local traditions, and the traveling dancers likely incorporated some local dance elements into their acts.” She adds that “[b]y the late nineteenth century, the form known today as old time square dancing, in a circle with sets of two couples forming the squares, was taking shape in the southern mountains and in the southeastern United States,” influenced by immigrants’ dances and popular dances including the Charleston, and that “[s]quare dancing and footwork dancing became a primary form of recreation for rural Appalachian people in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.” [Spalding, pp. 21, 20] While group figure dancing and solo percussive dancing existed in communities outside of the mountains, team percussive dance for performance does have mountain beginnings resulting from several decades of dance development.

Floating Dancer: The Story of Robert Dotson, the Walking Step, and the Green Grass Cloggers

In its exploration of percussive dance traditions, Seeger’s film Talking Feet includes dancers from central North Carolina in addition to the mountain dancers—though it spends perhaps more time than necessary in attempting to distinguish between flatfooting, buck dancing, and clogging when the usage of these terms changes by region or by individual dancer. Any of these terms can refer to solo percussive dance, but some generally accepted distinctions are that in flatfooting, feet are close to the ground, while in buck dancing or clogging, feet and leg movements may be higher. Spalding’s solution to this question of terminology is to refer to all forms of it as “footwork dancing,” though she does address some local terminology such as flatfooting, clogging, hoedowning, buck dancing, etc. [Ibid., p. 1] While the simplification of these terms is efficient for her discussion, some dancers avoid dwelling on distinctions that vary so much from person to person. One dancer who was casual about the terms was Robert Dotson of Sugar Grove, North Carolina, the source of the foundational Walking Step—a four-sound step that can be used to improvise flatfooting rhythms along with melody lines of tunes. To him, the local style was so prevalent that he sometimes saw no need to distinguish it from forms that were not common in his home area. He would describe his low-to-the-floor footwork as flatfooting, but other times he would simplify the label and say, “I just call it dancing.” [Dotson]

Of the variety of terms used for solo percussive dance, clogging was the word adopted for team dancing at the MDFF, but not for any particular historical or stylistic reason at the time. Yet, some dancers today claim old roots for the word “clogging,” a claim reminiscent of how figure dancing became part of the historical romanticized perceptions of Appalachia. A theme repeated in several online sources is that “clog” is Gaelic for “time,” but searches of contemporary online dictionaries based in Ireland and Scotland do not make such a linear connection: a search for “clog” in a Gaelic-world-maintained database of terms returns results for a mix of nouns and verbs related to a bell, sounding a bell, wooden shoes, and the hour-hand on a clock face. [Am Faclair Beag] Claiming that clogging is a form dating so far back is a linguistic reach for a singular ethnic heritage that is not directly connected to the style because of the cultural interchange that happened in Appalachia prior to team clogging’s beginning.

Other folk history about how “clogging” came to be the name for the team dance combining footwork and figures claims the Queen of England as a source for the term when she saw the Soco Gap Dancers at the White House in 1939 and supposedly commented that the percussive dancing was reminiscent of English clog-dance. But that was not the debut of the term, though the story was noted even in a fairly recent reference work about country music. [Hall, p. 92] Searches of nineteenth century urban newspapers reveal several advertisements, spanning at least sixty years in the 1800s, that note “clog dance” or “comic clog dance” in shows by community groups or minstrel troupes. [“Multiple” and “News”] Several ads pre-date the migration of another performance form: wooden-soled-shoe Lancashire clog dancing, from England in the second half of the century. [Dalsemer “Clogging.”] Even a 1933 New York Times headline for an Associated Press story from Asheville about the then-new MDFF also announced a “clog contest,” and the term “clogging” appears in the story. [“Old.”] Among dancers interviewed for Talking Feet, however, many of the geographically varied sources estimated that they had not heard the term “clogging” until 1970 or later. [Seeger, p. 10] So, tracing the use of the word itself does not necessarily form a parallel path with the development of the team dance form.

Flatfooting – Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Bill McElreath, and Freda Lunsford

As jazz, blues, and early country music became more widely accessible through recordings and radio in the 1920s, nationwide resistance to change pushed some people toward folk music and dancing as “a way to combat a variety of social ills from mechanization to unsavory music.” [Spalding, pp. 146-7] Mid-decade, even automotive magnate Henry Ford promoted dances popular in the late nineteenth century. Though Ford was partly motivated by racial and ethnic biases, his well-funded dissemination of folk dance manuals and records for square dances, quadrilles, etc., did accomplish the positive goal of encouraging more people to dance. Sharp’s and Ford’s projects would have been known in Asheville, North Carolina, which was reeling from its own boom-bust economic cycles. Both Sharp and Ford had visited the city, and the Pine Mountain Settlement School’s network of contacts extended into the area as well. Amid exponential local real estate development, population growth, and then a decline in real estate values, Asheville, North Carolina-based folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford was “deeply troubled by what he saw happening to his town,” and his biographer Loyal Jones notes that “[t]here are many clues about his feeling that the traditional culture must be preserved as people entered a new era of progress.” [Jones, p. 42]  Born in 1882, the same year as Olive Dame Campbell, Lunsford was young enough that Appalachian-themed travel and local-color literature had been in circulation for his entire lifetime. While working in Washington, D.C., he met Maud Karpeles, who had assisted Cecil Sharp, and she connected him to scholarly folklorists—which Lunsford’s biographer Loyal Jones speculates may have been the first ones he had met since his collection work thus far had been on his own. [Ibid., p. 23]

The common perception of Appalachian culture was so strong that in 1928 the Asheville Chamber of Commerce planned a Rhododendron Festival to try to boost tourism. The members thought that they could essentially act a role as quaint rustics in order to capitalize on tourists who expected to see the world portrayed in what they had read. Jones writes that the Chamber “knew that the tourists would have read the local color novels and descriptive books that presented the Southern mountaineers as a quaint people, somehow set apart from their fellow Americans, engaged in tasks and pastimes that conjured pictures of antiquity. Those in the Chamber instinctively knew that the folk culture could be sold” and recruited Lunsford to “put together a song and dance show.” [Ibid., pp. 42-3]

Believing that his home region had been incorrectly characterized as backward, Lunsford viewed the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival as an opportunity to “perpetuate the real, true cultural worth of the mountain people” as well as to “please the patrons,” whether or not it is possible to accomplish both goals simultaneously. [Ibid., pp. 53, 56]  In one of the earliest national news clips in 1928, the marketing language read, “…downtown 100 mountaineers will put on an old-fashioned square dance festival.” [Rhodendron] In local news, it was described as a “throwback from the modern jazz mad world,” and $100 in prizes was allocated for the dancing club winners. [Jones, p. 43] That amount is comparable to nearly $1,400 in 2015, so the prospect of winning must have been a draw for the competitors. However, Lunsford preferred performance to participation as a means to portray cultural art forms to a tourist public, so when the MDFF soon thereafter became a separate event, and the dancing continued to be for performance and competition, the numbers of performers increased without having to guarantee all of them money. [Ibid., pp. 53, 56, 59]

Over the years, the MDFF used recreational dancing as a way of re-creating a perceived old culture and community. Even if groups’ expenses were eventually sponsored by companies, part of Lunsford’s plan to maintain the cultural image of community that he wanted to promote at MDFF was that sponsored groups still had to be named after a place. [Ibid., p. 58] While local dance forms were part of the festival from the beginning—which was different from the conscious inclusion of English folk dance as at PMSS—the sense of representing the past was still part of the marketing. Advertising for the MDFF in 1934 claimed that the festival’s programming represented long-rooted traditions: “[d]ances presented by teams are traditional and indigenous to the mountains of this section. Thousands of visitors attend this fête each year to see folk dances that have been handed down from generation to generation.” [“Gay Week in Southern Centres.”]  Considering the flux of influences in the area and the marketing desires of promoters at the time, perhaps it is more accurate to say that, rather than being “handed down” in a static form, perhaps the dances were developed there “from generation to generation,” which is also, in a way, indigenous.

1930s-1960s: Emergence & Establishment of Team Clogging

There was no highly advertised debut of a “new” dance form called clogging at the MDFF. In the performances and competitions, the incorporation of footwork with square dance figures was gradual—and eventually, unpreventable. Jones notes that “Lunsford maintained that his purpose was never to standardize folk expression,” yet his “wish to entertain, no doubt, made Lunsford vulnerable to innovations away from traditional styles.” [Jones 58-59, 58] The atmosphere of competition was a significant additional layer of influence: winners soon became the models to emulate. When one of the innovations Lunsford allowed was the regular combination of percussive steps with figure dancing, it met mixed acceptance from scholars, the public, and even his MDFF collaborators. [Ibid., p.127] However, the dancers and the audience liked it, so Lunsford was caught between two of his primary motives: preservation and performance. It is important to keep in mind, though, that by presenting dance as a performance from the very beginning, the context Lunsford had provided inherently separated the dancing from the old-time house dances and allowed for change.

Despite any questions about authenticity, groups kept perpetuating the percussive square dancing—and since thousands of people saw teams dance at the MDFF, audience members were undoubtedly inspired to join teams or start new ones. According to Jones, increasingly, “[b]ecause of the young dancers’ growing enthusiasm for the clog, many of the more staid institutions that promoted folk dancing had a great deal of trouble getting them to stick to the running step.” [Ibid., p.128] The constant use of the clog step while dancing square dance figures was shocking to former PMSS director, Marguerite Bidstrup, who had seen set running (which used only a running step) at Pine Mountain before Sharp’s visit. [Ibid., p. 132] However, to keep young people involved—a crucial means of passing on tradition—dance teachers in the western North Carolina region and organizers at the MDFF could not completely ban the form.

Then another debate arose: the question of adding taps to the shoes to make the new intricate footwork more audible. Jones notes that “[m]any who were willing to accept the clog step in dance sets were not ready to accept steel toe and heel taps…Few, aside from the dancers, supported toe and heel taps.” [Ibid., p.128] The advent of new technology amplified instruments so that they could be heard over the click-clacking of tap shoes, but then dancers wanted their feet to be even louder, which was especially cacophonous in the early years of freestyle clogging when dancers on the teams did not do the same steps at the same time during the figures. For a time, the festival organizers banned both taps and electrified instruments, but then for some years, “the ban on amplified instruments was enforced; the one on toe and heel taps was not.” [Ibid., p. 58] Flat taps—pieces of metal attached to the heels and toes of shoes—were used first, but they amplified just the sounds that dancers could make directly by striking their heel and toe taps on the floor.

Smooth Dance – Bailey Mountain Cloggers

Eventually, the standard in competition clogging became jingle taps, which have second metal plates attached to the first ones on the heels and toes. The second taps are loose enough to allow them to clank against the flat tap attached to the shoe. Jingle taps make the direct foot-to-floor sounds louder; they also allow dancers to make additional indirect sounds just by shaking their feet. The public’s acceptance of taps eventually aligned with distinctions that Appalachian State University professor and North Carolina Folklore Society president Dr. W. Amos “Doc” Abrams described in a letter written circa 1974 to Lunsford’s biographer Loyal Jones. Abrams reflected that he could not accept them in the “smooth dancing where the appeal comes from the swaying of the bodies and the muted shuffles of the feet and the coordinated gestures on the dancers,” and he “would not wish cloggers to use steel plates while dancing in my living room or on my brick patio”—“but on an open platform above the crowd…these steel plates attract, stir the blood, and add to the effectiveness (yes, the spectacularity) of the entertainment. I have seen their power on the spectators on many occasions.” [Ibid., p. 128]

Southern Appalachian Traditional Clogging – Carolina Heartland Cloggers

In addition to taps becoming the norm, costumes for clogging also developed standardized styles. In the MDFF’s early years, in keeping with Lunsford’s catchphrase of “[j]ust wear the best you’ve got and be proud,” teams wore non-matching clothes to invoke old-time house dance attire. But sponsorship from individual businessmen as well as companies and communities increased budgets for teams to create costumes designed for the stage. Teams could afford to have matching clothes with fuller skirts, fancier patterns, bigger crinolines, and different costume styles for different styles of dance—long skirts for smooth dance, short skirts for clogging, etc. [Ibid., p. 58]

The 1950s brought an increased desire for conformity in American culture, and whether the larger societal trend had any influence on clogging, uniformity applied not just to costumes but eventually to choreography as well. The North Carolina Cloggers, according to dancer James Kesterson, were the first ones to include lines facing forward from the stage as the last formation of a routine—an obviously audience-conscious choice—and they took their style on a national circuit of county fairs and even the televised Grand Old Opry. [Jamison 25] Kesterson’s teenage peers had been born after the founding of the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, so they were part of a generation that favored percussive dance. In 1958, the MDFF added a category for clogging that was apart from square dancing. [Dalsemer “Clogging.”] The division was comparable to fiddlers’ conventions that introduced bluegrass categories to save a place for old-time musicians in competitions.

Traditional Precision Clogging—Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers at Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s House

Kesterson recruited students to form the Hendersonville Cloggers in 1959, which Lunsford renamed the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers in 1962 and included footage of in a documentary, Music Makers of the Blue Ridge, in 1964. Also in the mid-sixties, they danced at two Newport Folk Festivals, and some of the dancers simultaneously performed as part of productions of Annie Get Your Gun in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. For that show, the New York choreographer guided the group to include audience-facing lines during their routines rather than just at the end. The audience liked it, so the team kept the lines in their routines as they continued to demonstrate clogging across the country. Non-traditional figures and coordinated, rather than spontaneous, steps became so popular that in 1970, the MDFF felt it necessary to impose a new ban: no precision clogging in competition. [Jamison, p. 25] Factors affecting the trend toward precision clogging—that is, dancing new and fancier footwork in unison—were rooted in the same elements that had sparked the combination of footwork and figures: appealing to an audience and allowing changes that kept youths involved. But as with the initial incorporation of footwork with figures, once dancers and audiences had been exposed to the audience-facing lines, new styles could not be un-created, and competition bans could not de-popularize dance forms that dancers enjoyed.

1970s-1990s: Stylistic Divergence

The 1970s brought changes in traditional dance from an influx of counterculture youth interest in North Carolina’s music festivals and a reaction from the establishment to perceived threats to tradition. Approximately 125 miles slightly northeast of Asheville, near Union Grove, North Carolina, the World’s Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Convention began in 1924, a few years before Lunsford’s MDFF. It grew for forty years as a music contest with some dance exhibitions, and by the late sixties and early seventies, it had exploded into counterculture mania. The festival founder’s sons’ competing visions for the event’s atmosphere—enormous and boisterous versus small and quiet—led to the creation of two festivals near Union Grove. One of the smaller off-shoot events was the annual Autumn Square-Up dance competition. [Smith]

Traditional Precision Clogging—Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers at the Newport Folk Festival

In language reminiscent of the earliest descriptions of the dancing at the MDFF nearly fifty years before, Square-Up host Harper Van Hoy described clogging in 1976 as “part of our cultural heritage handed down from our frontier founding fathers,” [Keen]  a statement which is somewhat true, but not simply so. The competition categories at the Square-Up were similar to what had developed in Asheville: smooth dance, a style which had become increasingly rigid in an effort to contrast with the bouncing of clogging; traditional clogging, which included improvised and spontaneous footwork; and precision clogging, with dancers doing the same rehearsed footwork at the same time. [Smith]

The emergence of the Green Grass Cloggers (GGC) based in Greenville in Eastern North Carolina starting in 1971, and other teams that soon modeled themselves after them, again highlighted questions about tradition. The Green Grass style was structurally different than the Southern Appalachian competition styles: for shorter, high-energy routines, the GGCs adapted steps they had learned from solo flatfooters, created their own steps, and combined them with western square figures because that was what they had learned in the Eastern North Carolina college town where they were based. These counterculture college students wore their hair long and kicked their legs as high as they could. They were unconcerned about stylistic limitations and uninterested in conforming by wearing identical costumes. New young dancers were attracted to their high energy, and, just as clogging had threatened smooth dancing teams’ popularity among young people, the spread of the GGC style inspired another wave of concern about the few-decades-old competition forms that many practitioners viewed as already-traditional styles. [Smith]

Green Grass Cloggers (1978)

To advocates of the established clogging styles of the 1970s, the GGC style was shocking. But did the clogging establishment have grounds for saying the GGC style was not “folk enough”? Was what they did significantly more historical than the GGC style? To answer both questions: not particularly. In both competition and performance, team clogging in any style was already presented apart from the traditional old-time house dance social contexts from which it was descended. Yet, as a form born for an audience, the stage was clogging’s own relative historical context. So, it is reasonable to argue that decisions that dancers make that are intended for personal expression or to please audiences are all part of clogging’s continuing stage tradition.

Green Grass Cloggers (2011, 40th Anniversary Retrospective)

In the 1970s, the formal workshops that focused on competition clogging and the informal GGC-style workshops at festivals contributed to the dissemination of the different styles. The North Carolina mountain resort Fontana Village had become a center for national square dancing conventions in the 1960s, which frequently featured Bill Nichols, an East Tennessee native whose family demonstrated clogging for the events. [Burns] Such competition-style clogging workshops included participants from various parts of the country because of the national exposure that clogging had received in television coverage as well as through the increased traveling of teams. Leaders and students found they did not have a common vocabulary for what they were doing, which made sharing it difficult. [Perry]

Thus in 1974, clogging leader Bill Nichols and proponents of the competition styles met to discuss ways to improve communication among clogging organizations and work towards developing a shared vocabulary that would help with agreeing upon and transmitting a basic hoedown step as well as with teaching other steps. Some of the square dancers who saw Nichols’ clogging were inspired to start the team named Click-n-Cloggers in Durham, North Carolina, and they, along with cloggers from North Georgia, pushed for the creation of the National Clogging and Hoedown Council (NCHC), which codified standards for competitions. [Perry] Thus, as the MDFF had formerly divided clogging and smooth dance, the NCHC created more competition categories to reserve places for the traditional and precision divisions that were no longer new forms.

The codification helped to further distinguish competition-oriented clogging versus performance-oriented clogging: a distinction that attracted different groups of dancers. With the increasing intricacy of the clogging footwork in competitions and the intense preparation needed for competition showcases, teams dancing in that competition style did not perform at folk festivals as often or as widely as they had done prior to the codification movement of the 1970s. The new scoring system—with points allocated for particular Southern Appalachian steps and figures and details for costuming—meant that groups like the Green Grass Cloggers and their offshoots would not be likely to win competitions again. [Sutton]  But the GGCs had grown to prefer their appearances at festivals and clogging workshops over competition, and, starting in the late 1970s, part of the group forged a career in festival performance. Among festivalgoers, some of whom would not have seen clogging in competition settings, the performance style of the GGCs became their concept of clogging. Those festival performances often inspired dancers around the country and some overseas to form local groups for recreation and performance, which further advanced the spread of clogging descended from the GGC style. [Smith]

Eventually, competition-track dancers and performance dancers were further separated in style and community. Though both styles had geographically widespread networks of followers, competition groups practiced with hopes of winning titles from the sanctioning organizations like the NCHC. Audrey Perry—who began clogging in 1972 with the Click-n-Cloggers, later served as NCHC treasurer, and has been judging competitions since the later 1970s—remembers that for several years, teams would accrue points through a year, and then the teams with the most points at the end of the year would be winners. However, there were so many competitors that more events had to be organized so teams could qualify for dance-offs, which still ran for long stretches of weekend hours. Competitions could be chaotic, having multiple stages with different judges and sometimes even different competitors dancing to different music within earshot of each other. [Perry]

Concurrent with the expansion of competitions sanctioned by the NCHC in the 1970s, disco and country-pop music also became popular, and dancers started writing clogging cue sheets for individuals and groups to use clogging steps with the new music. Unlike the folk festival cloggers who danced to live music, some competition cloggers had already grown accustomed to dancing to recorded music—much as many square dance clubs did. With the change in music came new formations. By the beginning of the 1980s, some of the same dancers who had supported the establishment of the NCHC felt that even more codification was necessary; as non-partner-based routines using various forms of pop music became more common, they wanted to sustain the pre-1970 competition forms. The American Clogging Hall of Fame (ACHF) was established in 1981 to sanction competitions that would promote styles labeled as “traditional”: Southern Appalachian traditional, precision, running set hoedown and precision, country hoedown, and smooth mountain square dance. The ACHF chose to be based at Maggie Valley, North Carolina, where dancers Kyle and Burton Edwards, descendants of one of the Soco Gap Dancers, had already hosted conventions. The clogging that developed outside of the “traditional” forms became known as “contemporary” in competition terminology. [Information comes from Perry, see also Seeger 44]

Fiddle Puppets (1986)

For the most part, clogging in competitions versus performances at festivals did not have many crossover dancers to promote familiarity with these different approaches, and they continued to evolve separately. For the Fiddle Puppets, a team formed in 1979 by members of the GGCs who had relocated to Maryland, the historical separation led to at least two almost surreal encounters with contemporary cloggers in the 1980s. After one performance, the troupe’s encouragement to get dozens of dancers in attendance to square dance to live music did not work until a contemporary clogging teacher played a recorded track of a then-new country-pop song. Dancers filled the floor to perform, in unison, step sequences they had memorized from cue notation for that specific song. Later at a workshop at the Augusta Heritage Center in West Virginia, the Fiddle Puppets were surprised to hear a contemporary clogger announce, with negative connotation, that they were not “certified teachers.” To them, as dancer Rodney Sutton remembers, the idea that they should not teach if they were not certified was bizarre. They felt that they were passing on what they had learned from old-time flatfooters who had grown up dancing in their home communities. [Sutton] Though they were not certified in contemporary clogging, they were certainly qualified to teach their tradition-based style.

Mitzi Tessier, who managed Mama T’s dance hall in Asheville and led school clogging teams for many years, observed another shift in social dance from the 1970s to 1980s: as male students gravitated towards sports there was a decline in school-based, gender-balanced dance teams. [Tessier] With more women eventually dancing than men, the question of gender and costuming caused disagreement among organizational officers: the ACHF wanted to require women dancing as men in partnered figure dancing to dress as men, while the NCHC wanted to allow women to wear the women’s costume despite the gender role they were dancing. Ultimately, the solution was to create separate categories according to whether the women dancing as men wore the men’s costumes. [Perry]

Another driver of change in the world of team clogging were the workshops that teams and teachers held for the general public. Footwork like the simpler basic step of the GGCs is conducive when holding beginner workshops for the general public. But as contemporary clogging became increasingly complicated, an industry had become entrenched: in order to have chances to win titles, dancers had to be very familiar with competition parameters; and to teach the correct steps and figures for competitions, clogging instructors had to be certified so their students could know they were reliable sources of competition-style dance knowledge. In part because of the far-reaching traveling, teaching, and promoting that Georgia-based dancer JoAnn Gibbs did for competition clogging from the 1970s into the 2000s, the Clogging Leaders of Georgia organization she directed grew so much that it became CLOG, Inc., now an abbreviation for National Clogging Organization, which certifies instructors. [Perry] Clogging conventions gave students exposure to new steps and related styles, and with the shift from school-based teams to formal dance studios, students often took clogging classes along with tap and jazz, which inevitably influenced their clogging styles as well as propelling some of them to contemporary, even sparkling, costuming. Such changes in contemporary clogging led early precision clogger James Kesterson and early advocates of footwork standardization Violet Marsh and Sheila Popwell of Georgia to later lament some stylistic progression when they were interviewed for articles in the late 1980s and mid-2000s. [Jamison, p. 25; Carolan, p. 17] Ironically, however, this evolution has continued as a result of their contributions and through new dancers’ interpretations of their contributions.

1990s-2010s: Continued Innovation

Evolution and innovation caused competition organizers to create new categories for the new forms of dance—like the now-older style of lines of dancers without specific arm motions versus, a more recent trend towards lines with choreographed arm movements that are reminiscent of cheerleading combined with tap-shoe footwork. Competition even spread in the early 2000s to the American Athletic Union’s Junior Olympics. [Driggs] Today, NCHC is a competition-sanctioning branch within CLOG, Inc., often promoting contemporary forms. Additional organizations have also formed, while ACHF continues to specifically promote the traditional categories, selects inductees with at least twenty-five years of influence on the “preservation of the dance” for inclusion in ACHF, and offers an opportunity to dance at the Grand Old Opry as one of the top annual prizes. [Perry, “About” American] After numerous qualifying competitions through the year, the narrowed-down competitors for the ACHF Annual World Championships in October 2014 still numbered more than one thousand groups and individuals competing in just three days. [“Hundreds.”]

In the short time, the numerous competitors participate in twenty-one NCHC-sanctioned categories: Traditional (Appalachian) Categories—6 or 8-Couple Precision Team, 4-Couple Precision Team, Southern Appalachian Traditional Team (6 or 8 Couples), Running Set Hoedown Team (4 Couple), Running Set Precision Team (4 Couple), Smooth Mountain Square Dance Team (6 or 8 Couple), Country Hoedown Team (4 Couple); and Contemporary Categories—Line, Formations Line, Small Team, Exhibition, Show Team, Precision (4 or more couples), Hoedown (4 or More Couples), Traditional Line, Acapella Team, Formations Traditional Line, Contemporary Duo/Duet, Traditional Duo/Duet, Show Duo/Duet, Short Duo/Duet. Categories can be subdivided into Amateur and Masters skill levels and at least seven divisions according to average age: Tiny Tot (6 and under), Pee Wee (7-9), Elementary (10-11), Junior (12-14), Senior (15-18), Young Adult (19-29), and Adult (30 and over). [“2014-2015 NCHC]

That competition structure can sound staggering to dancers accustomed to improvising dance at social gatherings and jam sessions. Initially, old-time flatfoot dancers in a social context would improvise rhythms to complement, or even match, the melody of a tune—a skill that required intimacy with the music from growing up surrounded by it. Their style of dance required only moderate physical agility. While dancers today may pursue competition forms for fun and fitness, or because their parents enroll them in classes as toddlers, preparation for competition is a priority in instruction so students can correctly execute codified movements. Polishing that execution takes a greater physical commitment and rehearsal time than occasional social dancing.

Contemporary Clogging—All That! (Promotional Video)

Some dancers with successful backgrounds in competition clogging have continued their years of practice by participating in performance teams that fuse styles. The Bailey Mountain Cloggers (BMC), formed in 1974 and based in the college town of Mars Hill, North Carolina, claim the Green Grass Cloggers as an early influence—but they have expanded to be adept at multiple traditional and contemporary categories, a perennial winner of national championships, and representatives of American clogging styles at international folk festivals. [Bailey] In 1999, young men who had danced with BMC as students, or knew each other from years of competition, formed another team—All That!—for which they have used the dance skills that won them numerous solo competitions to experiment with athletic techniques and hip-hop music. For their crowd-pleasing incarnation of clogging—which they have shared through national television talent competitions, international travel, and in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, stage productions—they received the 2003 and 2012 Pioneer Award from CLOG, Inc. [“History” and “About” All]

Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble (2011)

A trend towards intricate and hyper-choreographed footwork has also happened among the festival circuit and theater-stage performance teams descended from the GGCs. While the evolution of competition clogging resulted in embracing popular music and dance styles, the evolution of festival performance clogging incorporated a combination of vernacular styles. Folk festivals drew together dancers from different traditions with the intent to showcase distinct styles that evolved among separate communities—such as tap dance, and Irish, French Canadian, and Cape Breton step dancing—but the contacts facilitated at those festivals often inspired groups to expand their repertoires, much like in the century leading up to the early MDFF.

Rhythm in Shoes (2007)

While the GGCs and numerous recreational offshoot performance groups essentially maintained the style with which they started, some groups diversified as dance companies. The Fiddle Puppets studied other forms of percussive dance found in America and around the world and, in the mid-1990s, adopted the broader name of Footworks. [“About the Company.”] Former GGC Sharon Leahy founded Rhythm in Shoes in 1987 and, from Dayton, Ohio, focused on “swing tunes & tap, hoedowns & clogging…infused the spirit of traditional dance and music with a thoroughly modern sensibility” before the group disbanded in 2010. [“Rhythm.”] One of the groups continuing the trend of showcasing American vernacular dance is the West Virginia-based Davis & Elkins Appalachian Ensemble (DEAE). [Hill] Like Kesterson’s dancers who had grown up with the combination of percussive steps and figure dancing, the young DEAE coordinators are of a generation that has grown up with an awareness of such folk-form amalgamation groups as Fiddle Puppets/Footworks and Rhythm in Shoes at music festivals and dance camps.

Davis & Elkins Appalachian Ensemble—Rager, A Tribute to the Green Grass Cloggers

Internet technology now provides access to many styles of music and dance beyond one’s home community. As in the past, when folk culture incorporated what was useful and interesting, the same process happens today, albeit from a wider body of material that inherently fuels stylistic evolution. Some dances are fads, but in the case of competition clogging and the organizational structures created to perpetuate it, specific forms in vogue for the stage at different times since the 1930s have not died out. In much the same way that modern club square dancing grew away from nineteenth- and early twentieth-century house dances in rural areas, the competition context has preserved, but simultaneously transformed, clogging from its roots in old-time flatfooting. While standardizing square dancing and clogging has allowed for increased participation and preservation of dances—both of which have positive results for individuals and communities—standardization has simultaneously overshadowed regional differences. The same conundrum of preservation and elimination happened in clogging as a result of teaching and competition networks. Now, though recreational performance teams still exist, most clogging is not a casual social form.

Davis & Elkins Appalachian Ensemble—Promotional Video

Today, cloggers can be distinguished, sometimes jokingly, just by shoe color: competition-branch cloggers historically wear white shoes, and performance-branch cloggers typically wear black shoes. But, of course, distinctions in style and purpose are more complicated than that generalization. Teams descended from the Green Grass Cloggers focus on the performance of and education in various forms of vernacular dance. Some competition teams focus on old-time Appalachian figures, while some pursue standardized steps and flashy showmanship. Though dancers in either branch are likely to refer to theirs as “traditional,” in reality, all of the styles are derived from combinations of influences. Reporter John Harmon was exactly right when he wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1988 that “[s]ince its evolution, clogging has always been molded by those who practiced it.” [Harmon]  In some cases, innovations in particular directions happened as a result of a few people who had the time, energy, and social platform for sharing what they knew of clogging and what they thought it could become. The various styles of team clogging share roots and have histories of person-to-person learning over several decades—but the performance and competition elements have made the dance form one that, while it appears to be participatory, actually requires considerable practice, and one that is always intended for an audience, never just for the dancers themselves. Ironically, team clogging’s longest tradition is competition itself. With nearly eighty years passing since the first competition among teams who incorporated percussive steps with figures, relatives in the amalgamated dance style called “clogging” can look perplexingly unrelated. But it is difficult to say this or that is or is not clogging. Until the branches take on new genre labels, it is all clogging—just different.


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Like any milestone birthday, a Centennial affords us the opportunity both to look back and to look forward. Where did we come from? How did we get here? Where are we going? This inaugural issue of CD+S Online launches us on our journey to explore these themes.

CD+S Online is the modern reboot of the Country Dance & Song Society’s (CDSS) scholarly journal, Country Dance and Song. From 1968 to 1996, under a distinguished panel of editors, the annually-published Country Dance and Song presented original research on folk dance and song. With CD+S Online we are excited to reengage with scholarly analysis and writing and to explore the advantages of the internet, which allows us to include links to other articles, videos and audio recordings, thereby greatly enriching the readings.

The 2015 Centennial celebrated the official founding of the entity that would become CDSS, when the English folk song and dance collector Cecil J. Sharp made his first visit to America, founding several branches of the English Folk Dance Society (EFDS). Derek Schofield starts us out on our 100-year voyage of discovery with Cecil Sharp and English Folk Song and Dance Before 1915, exploring how Sharp came to be involved with the movement, and what brought him to the United States in late 1914, shortly after war had been declared. Daniel Walkowitz continues Sharp’s story with Cecil Sharp and the Origins of the Country Dance and Song Society, exploring both why Sharp’s lectures and teaching of English folk dances appealed to Americans, and what Sharp himself gained by encountering traditional music in the Southern mountains.

As both Schofield and Walkowitz tell us, from its inception there was and has always been a tug-of-war between those who wish to capture, standardize and/or “preserve” traditional art forms and those who perceive that these forms are continually changing and evolving. The two remaining articles in this issue touch on different aspects of this tension between traditional and innovation. How do we preserve what we love while keeping it fresh for a new generation?

Tina Fields starts this discussion in her documentation of her own family’s involvement with square dancing in the 1950s and 1960s in rural Idaho in Square Dance in the 1950s Rural West. Seasonal rhythms meant that winter was the time for the most fun, and people would congregate at crossroads and square dance in the snow to the light given by the moon or buckets of burning, oil-soaked sawdust. She describes her father’s activities as a square dance caller, one who specialized in “hash” calls, and his perceptions of how square dancing has evolved over the years. In Hank Fields’ eyes, the calls have become too complex and less fun. Tina’s article reminds us that dancing can be an important sustainer of community.

In Cousins, A Few Times Removed: Eighty Years of Team Clogging’s Family Tree, Leanne Smith explores how and when clogging steps were added to traditional square dance figures to create the form of dance known as “team clogging.” She describes how the tension between wanting to show “traditional” clogging and the desire to please audiences split team clogging into a number of different styles: “smooth” dancing, “precision” clogging and more. She also explores the differences in style between competition-based clogging, with its numerous rules and categories, and festival-performance-based clogging, with an emphasis on incorporation of other vernacular footwork. She concludes that while some of these kinds of dancing look perplexingly unrelated, yet they are all clogging. This article also takes advantage of publication on the internet in its incorporation of numerous videos of dancers clogging in many different styles.

On January 1, 2016 the clock started ticking on the journey to the Second Centennial. To readers of 2115, I hope that you enjoy this exploration of the first hundred years!

Allison Thompson
General Editor, CD+S Online

Country Dance & Song Editors

  • May Gadd – 1968-1969
  • John Dunn – 1970
  • James Morrison – 1971-1974
  • J. Michael Stimson – 1975
  • Anthony G. Barrand – 1977-1981
  • David E.E. Sloane – 1983-1996