|The author demonstrates some of the steps.|
|NOTES FROM THE MARGIN|
| Learning to clog
A black woman finds her roots in Appalachia's music
| Click here
to listen to a sample of clogging music, from a Friday night jam session
at the Augusta Heritage Center's Old Time Week Aug 6-13, 2000.
'Want to learn how to clog?'
I hadn't even seen the man come up to me. He was tall and lanky, with a head full of white hair. His shirt was so wet with sweat it stuck to his chest.
He stuck out his hand. "My name's Charley." When he spoke, I saw his bottom teeth were out. Where I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, we blacks would have named him with a glance: redneck, peckerwood, cracker, our contempt for him and his growing with each word.
But I just shrugged my shoulders. "Sure. I'm Afi."
Neither of us really fit in. We were standing on the porch of an old manor house in the mountains of West Virginia. The mansion had once been the home of a lumber and coal magnate, and had probably seen its share of teas and formal dances. But that night, it was hosting an event put on by the Augusta Heritage Center, a school that teaches the traditional music, dance, and culture of the Appalachian area.
It was midnight on a Wednesday, but the manor's spacious veranda was packed with people playing music and moving to it. Plain folks like Charley dominated the dance floor. Melodies from fiddles, banjoes, and mandolins filled the air. Nobody waltzed or even attempted to foxtrot.
I had dreamed of coming to Augusta since 1986, when I first heard about its workshops on a radio show. Back then I was working as a secretary while I tried to establish myself as a writer, and I couldn't spare the several hundred dollars I needed to cover the tuition. Fourteen years later, I had finally gotten here. And I was the only black woman in sight.
I'd come to study singing. The other workshops that week focused on old-time music, an Appalachian instrumental style in which the fiddle plays the most prominent role. I was familiar with old-time; it was the ancestor of the country music industry that had put my hometown on the map.
My own musical tastes ranged from jazz and gospel to traditional African music and rhythm and blues. But as I listened to the band play that night, I found myself tapping my feet to the beat. I yearned for a way to move to that music.
Charley taught me the basic steps--slide and jump, then repeat with the other foot. African American dance is all pelvis and arms; the African dance I'd studied was all bent legs and flat feet. But in this dance, my torso was erect and my legs were straight. My feet shuffled, but my arms were silent.
I felt awkward and alien. Whoever heard of a black woman--a black person--struggling to learn a dance?
"I'll bet I look like a white girl," I muttered to myself.
But I wasn't. I was the black woman who finally took someone up on an offer to clog.
Learning to clog