Clog dancing

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Four clog dancers, at Saltaire

Clog dancing is a form of step dance characterised by the wearing of inflexible, wooden soled clogs. Clog dancing developed into its most intricate form in the North of England, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham and the Lake District.

English clogs, with leather uppers and a sole cut from alder or sycamore were the regular, everyday footwear for working people all over Britain until the 1920s. Because of the wooden sole, they gave better protection for the foot on cold or very hot floors. They were more resilient when working in wet conditions and they took longer to wear out than regular leather soles and then it was cheaper to reclog than to replace a leather sole. English dancing clogs are tight and close fitting which allows the dancer a lot of control over the movements of their feet. English clogs with an iron or rubber protective layer on the sole are also worn for North west morris.

The main focus and skill of a step dancer is in the footwork: dancers can create many different types of sound using their feet alone. Clog dancing was often performed very casually, people would dance at home, in the pubs or in the street. The upper part of the body was kept motionless so it required little space.

In the 1800s clog dancing competitions became popular. Large amounts of money could be won or lost on the clog competitions which were seen as a type of sport. Like modern day jockeys, dancers would perform in colours which would have made them easy to identify. Both men and women danced in breeches which would have allowed their leg movements to be seen.[citation needed] Clog dancing was also performed on the stage. In the Victorian period clog dancing was a popular act in music hall or variety shows. Often people would wear special themed costumes as part of their act. The famous comedian Charlie Chaplin started his career in music hall as a clog dancer.


English clog dancing began in 19th century England during the Industrial Revolution.[1][2] It is thought to have developed in the Lancashire cotton mills where wooden-soled clogs were preferred to leather soles because the floors were kept wet to help keep the humidity high, important in cotton spinning.[3] At their breaks and lunches, they would have competitions, where they were judged on the best rhythm patterns. By the late 1800s they clog danced[4] on proper stages at competitions. In these competitions, the judges would watch the routine and judge it according to footwork, precision, and technique. Clog dancers were a common sight at music halls throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century. One such group was the The Eight Lancashire Lads which included a young Charlie Chaplin as one of its members.[5] Dan Leno became the world champion clog dancer in the 1880s, although records show that competitive clog dancing was a frequent occurrence throughout the 19th century.[1]

Cecil Sharp frequently encountered step dancing, clog dancing and North West morris dancing (a type of morris often performed in clogs, but not the same as clog dancing) in his search for folk dances in England, but it was Maud Karpeles who was more effective in documenting some of these dances.[citation needed] She encountered groups of North West morris dancers in the North-West of England. Her book The Lancashire Morris Dance was published in 1930. It arrangements of the common Morris tunes : Rush cart lads, The girl I left behind me, Corn rigs, Sawney was tallRadstock jig, Balquhidder lasses, Shepton hornpipe, Nancy Dawson and Cross Morris)[6] In 1911 John Graham had published Lancashire and Cheshire Morris Dances from the same area. In the USA, English clog steps were combined with African rhythms to form buck and wing dancing, and that evolved into Tap dance.[a]


A group of North-West morris dancers (Briggate Morris) in Skipton

Clog dancers today wear a mixture of costumes inspired by the Victorian and Edwardian clothing of the northern workers who would have clogged danced in the past. Dancers also wear contemporary clothing and fashion, often using items which can be purchased from high street shops. Some have specially made costumes, often with a waistcoat or bodice which is worn with a long skirt. Pat Tracey (1959) wrote this wonderful description of the everyday-but-smart clothing worn by clog dancers performing in the street in the early 20th century;

“For their performance the dancers usually wore their normal working clothes – brown fustian trousers, striped shirt with red muffler knotted round the neck, navy blue jacket and soft cap. They danced in their everyday clogs though these were usually somewhat lighter in weight than those worn by the majority of weavers...the street dancers normally belonged to a set of rather dandified working youths and the lighter clog was part of their accepted dress.”

English Folk Costume

Dancing styles[edit]

Northern English clog[edit]

The north of England is the home of step dancing in wooden-soled clogs. Dances and steps are most notably found in Durham, Northumberland, Lakeland (Cumbria), and Lancashire. As well as being danced in social settings, there are also some competitions, which has helped define some of the styles. Competition style dancing is often focused on very precise footwork with very little upper-body movement.

North West morris[edit]

Ladies North West Clog Morris in Upnor, Kent

North West morris dancing is from Lancashire, Greater Manchester, and Cheshire though the style in no longer restricted geographically and is usually performed in sets of 8 dancers, although sets of 6 to 12 are not unusual. Dances were originally processional, moving through the streets of the local town or village. The dancers often wear iron-shod clogs, sometimes with bells on. Nowadays they dance with the distinctive cross polka step or rant and high kicks.

Flower garlands, short sticks with bells on or slings (short lengths of braided ropes) are used in the dances. [8] The men’s costumes are usually breeches and shirts with hats decorated with flowers and strings of beads worn around the neck.Women often wear mid-length dresses with a pinafore or waistcoat. [9]

Clog and step[edit]

Clog and step in Grenoside, Sheffield

Clog and step are percussive forms of dance, generally performed by small groups and solo dancers. At one time most of the country would have had some kind of step dance tradition, often danced in the street, in pubs, and during social occasions. Nowadays they are quite commonly found along with other types of performance dance.

The term step dancing can refer to several styles of traditional percussive dance and can also be called step clog, clog, or stepping. Traditionally, dancers would have danced in their work shoes. For example, in Lancashire, wooden-soled clogs were worn in the mills, and on Dartmoor, hard-soled leather shoes or boots would have been worn for farming. Nowadays, clogs, tap shoes, and hard-soled shoes are all worn depending on the style of dance.

Costumes vary – some choose to wear costumes derived from archive photographs of mill workers in their working clothes or even their Sunday best, whilst others have adopted more modern outfits. On Dartmoor, in East Anglia and in the Romany/Gypsy and Traveller community, no special costume at all is worn, just everyday clothes.

Clog dancing traditions still exist in some festivals in Northumberland, and are danced to the traditional music of the area. Clog dancing is also still practised in parts of Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, Cumbria and Derbyshire and there are teams dancing the Northern traditional dances (and newer ones) in many other parts of England. Clog dance competitions currently held in England include the Lancashire and Cheshire Clog Dancing Contests (focussing on Lancashire style clog dancing) held every September as part of the Fylde Folk Festival in Fleetwood, and the Northern Counties Clog Dancing Championships (focussing on Durham and Northumberland style clog dancing) held every year in Tyne and Wear.


Clog dancing is traditional in Wales and is a regular feature of both local and national eisteddfodau. Competition can be energetic with the dancers leaping over brooms. "Welsh Clog Dancing is not like North-West or Lancashire Step. It is not a revival, as it is danced in the style of the unbroken tradition."[10] Welsh clog dancing is stylistically distinct from English clog dancing.

Music hall[edit]

Clog dancers included Charlie Chaplin.


"Boerendansen" at the end of this news-clip from 1951

Traditional dancing in the Netherlands is often called "Folkloristisch", sometimes "Boerendansen" ("farmer-dancing") or "Klompendansen" (clog dancing).[11] Wooden shoes are worn as an essential part of the traditional costume for Dutch clogging, or Klompendanskunst. Clogs for dancing are made lighter than the traditional 700-year-old design. The soles are made from ash wood, and the top part is cut lower by the ankle. Dancers create a rhythm by tapping the toes and heels on a wooden floor.

Descendent traditions[edit]

In the United States, team clogging originated from square dance teams in Asheville, North Carolina's Mountain Dance and Folk Festival (1928), organised by Bascom Lamar Lunsford in the Appalachian region.[citation needed]

American Clogging is associated with the predecessor to bluegrass"old-time" music, which is based on Irish and Scots-Irish fiddle tunes. Clogging developed from aspects of English, Irish, German, and Cherokee step dances, as well as African rhythms and movement. It was from clogging that tap dance eventually evolved.

Solo dancing (outside the context of the big circle dance) is known in various places as buck dance, flatfooting, hoedown, jigging, sure-footing, and stepping. The names vary in meaning, and dancers do not always agree on their use.

Buck dancing was the earliest combination of the basic shuffle and tap steps performed to syncopated rhythms in which accents are placed not on the straight beat, as with the jigs, clogs, and other dances of European origin, but on the downbeat or offbeat, a style derived primarily from the rhythms of African tribal music.[12]

Traditional Appalachian clogging is characterised by loose, often bent knees and a "drag-slide" motion of the foot across the floor, and is usually performed to old-time music.


The ballet La fille mal gardée contains a well-known clog dance.


In 2006, nearly 500 teenagers attempted the "Guinness Book of World Records" bid for the largest number of clog dancers.[13] It took place in The Hague. They were dancing the ballet version of the Dutch clog dance rather than the folk version. For this specific dance the choreography was created by Stanley Holden (1928–2007), though Frederick Ashton took overall responsibility for it.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Buck and wing dancing: The "wing" referred to is the step where a foot is kicked out to one side, striking the ground as it goes. The Buck was the young African male.[7]
  1. ^ a b Wallis, Lucy (11 December 2010). "Is clog dancing making a comeback?". BBC News. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  2. ^ English Clogging in Lancashire in the 1800/1900s Retrieved 3 March 2012
  3. ^ B. A. Dobson Humidity in Cotton Spinning : A Paper Retrieved 3 March 2012
  4. ^ CLOG DANCE – a brief history Retrieved 3 March 2012
  5. ^ Clog Dance: English Folk Dance and Song Society accessed 1 November 2015
  6. ^ The Lancashire Morris dance: containing a description of the Royton Morris dance; collected and edited by Maud Karpeles. London: f. English Folk Dance Society by Novello; New York: H. W. Gray, [1930] (accompanied by: tunes as pianoforte arrangements by Arnold Foster. Rush cart ladsThe girl I left behind meCorn rigs, or, Sawney was tallRadstock jigBalquhidder lassesShepton hornpipeNancy Dawson, or, Cross Morris)
  7. ^ "All ABout (sic) Tap Dance". Hoofer History. Retrieved 9 November 2015. 
  8. ^ NWMorris "North West Morris" Check |url= value (help). EDFSS. 2015. 
  9. ^ ["North West Morris Costume" Check |url= value (help). EDFSS. 2015. 
  10. ^ Welsh Dance
  11. ^ "Folk Dancing in the Netherlands". Retrieved 22 February 2011. 
  12. ^ Ames, Jerry & Siegelman, Jim (1977) The Book of Tap. David McKay Company ISBN 0-679-50615-2; p. 41
  13. ^ "Young dancers clog up The Hague". BBC News. 9 July 2006. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Spalding, Susan Eike & Woodside, Jane Harris, eds. (1995) Communities in Motion: dance, community, and tradition in America's Southeast and beyond. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

External links[edit]