Clog dancing was heavily influenced by its industrial backdrop, providing a reflection of urban working lives during the 19th and 20th century. Dancers incorporated and imitated the liminal sounds of moving vehicles and machinery, Aylis Angus- a clog dancer and traveller from Northumberland, described a man who could perform in clogs the sound of a train travelling across America, each stations ‘points’ registering different sounds.
The nature of the dance - passed down in families and picked up and transmitted whilst on the move- is exposed in its historic narrative. Almost all early clog dancers having come from immigrant or travelling families where time spent moving on foot could be used productively, socially, and provide income when performed as entertainment.
In its attachment to working-class culture, clog dancing became a metaphor for destitution and deviance, positioned on a subversive, transgressive threshold in the eyes of the Victorian capitalist patriarchy. Performed in English music hall, a theatrical variety show, many female performers and champions were berated and exploited by their audiences, unable to achieve the recognition and earning potential that their male competitors attained, due to the prevalent stereotypes of gender and class. Some canny performers though, like Nellie Coleman, used their sexual advantages to exploit the predominantly male juries, adopting false modesty and diminutives for their own ambitious gain.
Lancashire clog dancer Pat Tracey, with Peter Kennedy on the Melodeon
The dances were highly skilled, and innovative in their originality, resulting in a highly competitive atmosphere that occasionally inspired pranks between opponents. In the forties Angus remembered how red brick dust was scattered onto the floor before a dancer took the stage, another trick was removing the shoelaces from the opponent’s clogs.
The tradition of clog dancing is a rambling and expansive one, the unique steps and dances revealing a cross-fertilisation of different cultural concerns and personal histories; having appeared in some Rapper sword-dance teams like Newbiggin and Earsdon, North West morris, The Bacup Britannia Coco-nutters, featured in eisteddfodau, a welsh festival of music, arts and literature dating back to the 12th century and many more.
E. Wilson, Step Dancer, Newcastle series,1981
G. Boyes, (Ed) Step Change: new Views on Traditional Dance, 2001
T. Jill Buckland, Dancing from past to present: Nation, Culture, Identities, 2007
P. Tracey, More about Clog-Dancing, EDS 59, pg 39-41