Clogging for Fun

Paul Puckrin teaching a class.

The Link, Winter 2017
| by Josie Newman |

When Paul Puckrin’s wife Karen asked him to take up ballroom dancing with her in the 1990s he didn’t want to reject her request and suggested clogging instead. Little did he realize then what lay in store.

“Like a lot of men, I was not too thrilled at the prospect of ballroom dancing. We had seen clogging at the Port Perry fair and at the Mariposa Folk Festival years earlier and I liked the taps, the sound and the fact it was performed to live music,” says Puckrin, a physician and head of The Outback Cloggers, a local clogging group based in Port Perry.

“…fast music, good exercise and very social.”

A conciliatory gesture on Puckrin’s part soon became a passion. Paul, Karen and a number of their friends took lessons from a local instructor for two years and when the instructor moved to the United States, the group decided to use a studio-sized room above Puckrin’s garage to dance in.

“We were enjoying it so much, we didn’t want to stop,” says Puckrin, who later became a certified clogging instructor and was just the third Canadian to do so.

Clogging is a folk dance performed with tap-like steps using the heel and toe to strike the floor with audible rhythms. It was originally accompanied by the fiddle and sometimes the banjo. There were no percussive instruments used but the sound of the dancers’ tap steps acted as percussion.

It began in the British Isles hundreds of years ago and was brought to Canada by English, Irish and Scottish immigrants. In fact, the word clog means time in Gaelic. The Canadian version evolved into step-dancing but has been heavily influenced by American clogging, so is now an amalgamation of the two. American clogging originated in the Appalachian Mountain range and is influenced by German, Dutch, African and First Nations folk dances.

Clogging was traditionally danced in formation generally with a partner, but the footwork was freestyle with dancers using whatever steps seemed most suitable. Modern clogging is much different, with a set sequence of steps used in time to a particular piece of music.

“There’s a saying, historically, that if a clogger is performing a cappella or with no music the audience should be able to tell what tune is going through his/her head by the footwork they are tapping,” says Puckrin.

“What I love about clogging is the fun of it. It’s usually fast music, good exercise and very social. It’s not competitive and that’s not the point of it. You can clog on a Saturday night with family and friends.”

In the U.S. though, where clogging is very popular, it is a highly competitive dance. Puckrin travelled to the U.S. several times over a two-year period in the 1990s to take courses in order to become a certified instructor. He has taught at workshops in both the U.S. and Canada, although the majority of them have been in northern Ontario, often to First Nations clogging groups.
Puckrin teaches group lessons Saturday mornings and Monday evenings in the dance studio at his farm north of Port Perry. Dancers of all levels congregate for the lessons which begin with simpler steps and then move on to harder footwork.
The Outback Cloggers also do public performances, including an annual appearance at the Sunderland Maple Syrup Festival, a performance on a hay wagon at the Greenbank Beef BBQ, once at Black Creek Pioneer Village and frequently at an assortment of local fairs.

The Kawartha Country Cloggers, based in Lindsay, have a different audience than the Outback Cloggers. The all-female group is going to perform four times before Christmas at nursing homes, a retirement home and a community care home. They usually perform twice a month in various venues. Originally called the Clogging Grandmothers the group began in 1988 and meets every Wednesday for lessons at the Academy Theatre in Lindsay.

There are several clogging groups in Ontario and many more across the country. To find a local group there are various websites including www.iclog.us and www.clogdancing.com

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