English Clog Dance

English Clog Dance is a term that is generally used for the percussive step dance that has its roots in the industrial areas of Northern England and is named after the footwear that was commonly worn by everyday folk at that time.  Clogging, as it is often referred to is believed to have first developed in the mid-19th century in the cotton mills of Lancashire, where workers created a dance that imitated the rhythms of looms. The style quickly spread and developed a number of regional variations. In Northumberland, it became a pitman’s recreation, danced solo or to the accompaniment of a fiddle, and almost exclusively by men.

It reached its height in popularity during the industrial revolution as a show piece for music hall performers, some of whom became superstars of the day. Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel both started their careers as clog dancers and in 1880 the music hall entertainer Dan Leno became world clog-dancing champion (winning a gold and silver belt that weighed over 1 ¼ Kgs!), a title that led to him being the first music hall performer to be give a Royal Command Performance.

Along with many other forms of traditional English dance, clogging saw a decline in interest in the early part of the 20th century and it wasn’t until the folk revival of the 60s and 70s that it began to find its feet again.  The reasons for its decline are varied but many cite the clog’s association with poverty (ironically one of its original driving forces) as having a major effect. The working classes, quite understandably, were very keen to be rid of the stigma of wearing clogs, which were still given out on entry to the workhouse up until the 1930s. Another more positive reason was the development and rise in popularity of tap, a dance form that English clogging, along with other traditional percussive dances had a major effect on. Indeed, one of the last major stars of the clogging world, Jackie Toaduff (the original Billy Elliot) performed, and was good friends, with Ginger Rogers.
In the 1960s and 70s  many enthusiasts began to research old steps and routines and a new generation of dancers began to appear, many of whom were taught directly by some of the originaldancers like Sam Sherry and Pat Tracey. One of Sam’s students, Harry Cowgill, was the inspiration behind one of the tracks on The Adventures of Captain Ward; Harry’s Hornpipe

The clog dancers in The Demon Barbers use a variety of steps mainly from Northumberland and Lancashire but also some that have been influenced by the Irish and Appalachian traditions. Our current dancers are: Fiona & Tiny Taylor, Fiona Bradshaw, Hannah James, Laura Connolly and Nic Lyons. Fiona and Tiny are sisters and members of Black Adder Rapper and Step, Fiona Bradshaw dances clog and appalachian with her sister in Sister Act, Laura Connolly is a professional clog dancer and teacher from Newcastle Upon Tyne and both Hannah and Nic learnt to dance as part of Fosbrooks one of the leading traditional music and dance schools in the UK.

More info on the history of clog dance