Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Difference Between Buck and Clog Steps

I referred to buck dance style as “out and up” and clog dance style as “down and back.” I want to provide some video links to illustrate what I am talking about. A particularly popular video on You Tube has been a film made in the living room of Bascom Lamar Lunsford by New York filmmaker David Hoffman in 1964. This team, which became called the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers, used what I would call an extreme example of the clog step.  Here is a link:
You will notice the motion of their step is to outstretch the leg and bring it down and back. Bascom Lamar Lunsford is shown dancing at 2:36 – 2:40 in the video.

Here is a video of the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers several years later at Newport dancing with the same stylish clog step.

Here is a video I made of Morris Hampton teaching at Clog College at Fontana Village in 1981. This shows the basic clog step as it was done by the Daniel Boone Cloggers at that time.

To illustrate the use of the shuffle in the clog step, which I believe is derived from Native American influences, I offer a video of myself doing a "rise-n-shine." The thing to pay attention to is how the foot that is marking time is moving forward and back through most of the steps. The shuffle is also evident in the video of the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers at Newport while the gents are doing the "Flapjack" step from 1:18 – 1: 22.

Here is a link to an article about Kay Wilkins who taught at Avery County High School.

To illustrate the buck step, I have found a few videos. But first let me say that the term "buck dance" is often used to describe anyone doing a solo dance, even if they are using clog steps. I am talking about the distinct style of dance called buck that is different and opposite in many ways from clogging. Similarly, people often use the word "clogging" to represent any kind of mountain dance, clog, buck or flatfoot. Here are the Melvin Sloan Dancers at the Grand Ole Opry.
Some of the dancers are doing a clog step and some are doing a buck step. The couples come up for a “rise-n-shine” together and at 3:15 – 3:30 the gent in the first couple is basically a buck dancer with the "out and up" motion. The second couple up from 3:32 – 3:52 features a lady dancing in the style of Robert Spicer’s Dickson County Square Dancers. They used a lot of ankle moves. In the third couple up from 3:52 – 4:10, the gent is basically doing a clog step.

In this video, the Melvin Sloan Dancers are again shown on the Grand Old Opry several years later.
In this video you will notice the second and third ladies up from 2:14 – 3:00 are doing a lot of ankle moves reminiscent of the Dickson County Square Dancers. The fourth gent up from 3:03 – 3:20, in my opinion, is highly influenced by the modern styles of clogging.

Here is a web-page from the NEA web-site containing a bio of Robert Spicer, who I was fortunate enough to meet and chat with several times and even dance on stage with some of his dancers on a couple of occasions at the Museum of Appalachia Homecoming Festival in Tennessee. This describes the African-American roots of his style of dance, which is really quite fascinating.
Here is a link to a web-site devoted to the memory of Robert Spicer:

This video of Kyle and Burton Edwards shows the difference between clogging and buck styles side by side, although Burton is a modern clogger whose step is different from the classical clog step.
By comparing the basic motion between father and son, you can see that the buck step was “out and up” and the clog step, although not as evident here because Burton Edwards is a modern clogger, is “down and back.”

In addition to the "down and back" versus "out and up" motion, there is a general tendency of buck dancers to keep their weight on the ball of the foot whereas clog dancers of the traditional style transfer weight, sometimes forcefully, to the heel. The clog step is also highly stylized by a knee bending motion, whereas buck dancers, while dancing with bent knees, do not emphasize bending and straightening the knees with each step as much. Also, the use of the shuffle, a sliding forwards and backwards of the foot marking time, is a common feature of the clog step, and is probably derived from Native American influences, as I suggested earlier. Finally, the clog step is the one that utilizes the toe shuffle (called double toe), whereas buck and flatfoot styles generally do not. The double toe provides a circular motion that gives the clogger the ability to dance to much faster music. The clog step is in general a much more energy-efficient, less strenuous step than the buck step, due to a lesser amount of friction caused when a buck dancer taps out a sound for each note in the melody line, becoming in effect, a percussive musical instrument. Clog steps can be devised that do go well with the music, but not necessarily every note of the melody. There are clog teams that adopted three beat steps that in my opinion, do not go well with the music.

Now, there's a third general category more akin to buck called flatfoot dance, and the rules are much less defined. Here is a video of famous flatfooter/buck dancer Ira Bernstein. 
In my opinion, this style of percussive flatfooting is a branch of buck dance. There are other flatfooters who truly don't follow the rules of buck at all. That can lead to discussions of the dance styles of Jesco White and Willard Watson and others. But that is beyond what I am trying to talk about here! I remember seeing a flatfooter in Tennessee who kept his feet practically glued to the ground but moved all over it, his body limber and moving with the music like there wasn't a bone in his body, his feet crossing behind and in front. Now that's what I call flatfooting! Unfortunately, I can't show a video of that dancer, but I have a vivid image of him in my mind dancing in the lobby of a college gymnasium in Clarksville, Tennessee at a festival in the spring of 1982, along with Robert Spicer and his daughter who were there at the time. Robert Spicer's daughter said to me, "He's the best there is!" I had to agree, and I don't know his name. I have never seen a flatfoot dancer since then that I thought was better.

Finally I want to say there isn't any style police going around saying you can't mix things up. That's exactly what has happened to blur the lines between the basic styles. I offer this discussion to folklorists who delve into the origins of the dance. It is my opinion, but it is supported by my observations and conversations with old-timers who were key figures in the development of the dance such as Kay Wilkins and Robert Spicer. Here is an example of Carol Rifkin of the Green Grass Cloggers, starting around 3:40, doing a basic flatfoot/buck dance and then spicing it up with some clogging moves.

Later I will discuss the changes that came about to classical clogging that gave rise to modern clogging.

No comments:

Post a Comment