MUSKEGO — “Don’t forget to smile!”
With the music turned up on the boombox and nine sets of metal-clad dance shoes pounding out the rhythm to “Me Too” by Meghan Trainor, instructor Cathy Bailey had to shout her instructions during a recent rehearsal of the Muckey 4-H Cloggers as they practiced for a performance of their high-intensity style of dancing called clogging.
Clogging is an American dance form that combined music and traditional dance steps from the Scottish, Irish, English and Dutch-Germans who settled in the Appalachian Mountains in the mid-1700s. Although the original accompaniment was fiddle and bluegrass music, today’s dancers are as likely to stomp and whirl to hard rock, country, classic rock, pop or hip-hop.
No matter what the musical accompaniment, the common denominator of clogging is the sound the shoes make hitting the floor. Unlike traditional tap shoes, clogging shoes have taps on both toe and heel, and each tap is two layers of metal slightly separated from the other so the accompanying sound is less “tap” and more “chink.” The hard-hitting energetic double-step dance style is also called “power tap.”
Lifelong 4-H’er Dorothy Riesing got the cloggers started in Waukesha County in about 1993 after she and her husband went to a folk arts school in North Carolina and she got her first taste of clogging.
“On the way home, I said to my husband, ‘I think I can teach this,’” Riesing said.
The Waukesha club had been started many years before by her father, Fred Washa, and originally focused on travel adventures to places like the Grand Canyon and Canadian Rockies. Riesing was looking for activities to fill in the gaps as those travel opportunities dwindled.
“We had a large club at that point in time, so we had all these kids,” she said. “(Clogging) was noisy, it was loud, it was a performance thing. If you’ve got a couple of kids that like it, they’re going to do it, and their friends are going to do it. It just kept going.”
The Muckey group is still a 4-H project, but the performance group had expanded to include several adults, some of whom are former 4-H’ers.
Brook Skarda drives each week from Rubicon in Dodge County to rehearse with the group at the Tudor Oaks Senior Living Community near Muskego. She was about 12 in 1994 when she joined the Muckeys and remembers how she was drawn in by the uniqueness of the 4-H project.
“In those six years I was in it, we did state fair almost every year, we did (Waukesha) county fair every year, we danced on the square in Madison, we danced in the Muskego parade almost every year, we did the Lodi Ag Fair a couple years, (and) we danced in about 1996 with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. That was interesting,” Skarda said. “They did some upbeat country thing, and we had to choreograph it.”
Skarda aged out of 4-H and went off to college but rediscovered the clogging group about two years ago. Now 38, she is clogging because it is great exercise and hearkens back to something she enjoyed so much as a youngster.
Cathy Bailey is a former4-H member and one of the choreographers for the group. She said the dance steps are a combination of moves learned at workshops, devised by club members and picked up from other dance events. The group practices weekly from October into August in the exercise room at Tudor Oaks.
Dustin Ehlert, 14, is a member of the Muckey 4-H Club and has clogged for three years.
“My sister did it, and I saw her perform and said, ‘Yeah, I’d like to try that.’ I like how it’s moving and it’s energetic,” Ehlert said. “I like to go, go, go, go, go.”
His mom, Lora Ehlert, said she hadn’t even heard of clogging before the 4-H project started, and she was very surprised her children showed an interest.
“Especially my daughter, who was very shy and reserved,” Ehlert said. “You never know; she just took off. She actually ended up doing Irish (dance) with her college.”
“I think I just like the movement of my feet and the noise too,” said 10-year-old 4-H’er Andrew Kohlmann, who is in his third year of clogging with the Muckeys. “I like the noise the shoes make.”
His mom, Claire Kohlmann, was never in 4-H but learned clogging as a graduate student at North Carolina State University. She saw the project at the Waukesha County Fair, and both she and Andrew signed on.
Another mother and son team is Gayle and Trevyn Nicoll from Brooklyn. Gayle said her mother taught her the basics of clogging when she was about 6 years old, but she didn’t get serious until about 20 years ago when her daughter Serena showed an interest in dance.
“When I found out the dance studio also had adult lessons, I was all over that,” she said.
Gayle has performed for national clogging competitions and taught lessons, including 4-H Fall Forum programs with the goal of getting other clubs interested in starting a clogging project.
Gayle’s 9-year-old son, Trevyn, said it can be a frightening experience to be on stage for the first time, but he likes the idea of learning a new skill.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” he said. “I’ve been doing that the past four years with all the new songs we’ve been doing, plus meeting all the new people.”
He said he can see himself continuing clogging as an adult.
“Oh, yeah! Whenever I get bored it occupies me,” he said. “Sometimes when I don’t even notice it, I’m on the sidewalk shuffling my feet and start doing double steps.”
4-H membership has ebbed and flowed over the years, as has membership in the clogging project. At one time, there were as many as 25 youngsters dancing with the Muckeys. The group recently finished its season with performances at the Wisconsin State Fair and for residents at its host location, Tudor Oaks. The project will start again in October with the new 4-H year.
For more information about the Muckey Cloggers, visit http://websites.iclog.us/Muckey_4-H_Cloggers.htmlor the group’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Muckey4HCloggers.