ClogOn Interview with Andy Howard from American Racket

Andy Howard started clogging at age 8 in his hometown of LaBelle, in SW Florida.  As a young performer, he was a member of Sidekick Cloggers, frequent entertainers at Dollywood theme park and various regional and national events.  Andy founded SoundStage in 2001 while attending University of Florida; the original group comprised students and regional dancers specializing in clogging, tap and other forms of percussive dance.  In 2007, the group relocated to Central Florida and adopted the name “American Racket,” originally the name of a performance organized and choreographed by Andy for the Orlando International Fringe Festival. Andy was inducted into the All-American Clogging Team in 2002, administered by the American Clogging Hall of Fame. Andy earned his M.A. in American Dance Studies from Florida State University where he published a thesis on the history of American Team Clogging. Check out American Racket on Facebook!

1. What’s the difference between clogging and tap?

Both forms had pretty similar (if not the same) backgrounds before the 1920s. Of course, there was still a lot of variance in the individual or regional styles, especially depending on ethnic tendency (Irish, English, African, etc.) and theatrical styles vs. vernacular styles. In my opinion, the most significant divergence occurred around 1928 at the Rhododendron Festival (soon after renamed Mountain Dance and Folk Festival) in Asheville, NC. This festival hosted a square dance (teams, each with a band, invited by invitation only) to showcase regional music and dance for tourists. Reportedly, a few years into the competition teams started introducing percussive footwork while executing the “big set” (8 couple as opposed to 4) square dances. This was the birth of team clogging and team clogging competitions. (Note: I use the word “team”, because there were solo clog competitions, but it was more akin to English clogging from Minstrel and vaudeville circuits in America than our drag-slide style) Workshops and conventions grew out of the interest generated by the competitions and performances, especially when clogging hit the Grand Ole Opry stage with the Sloan Dancers in the 1950s.. The name “clogging” wasn’t used until the late 1930s. The term “tap” wasn’t used until around that time also. I have heard many theories about tap vs. clogging; one is usually described as more “up”/”down” or more on the “heel”/”toe”… I do not feel that these are fair comparisons because they vary so much within each style… Lots of tappers and cloggers use heels and toes, they also vary in up/down. I think the fairest statement is that (1) clogging was closely tied to square dance and old-time music, especially at first…. and (2) they both developed out of different traditions and resulted in different dance communities.

2. Why should I get in to clogging, I’m already in tap, jazz and ballet?

A true dance enthusiast will want to try as many styles as possible. If you are dancing for exercise, switching styles is a good idea for maximizing aerobic response… the same as switching between the treadmill and bike at the gym. Your body can get used to one style and thus learns to use less energy. In terms of tastes, there are very few dancers that I have ever encountered that didn’t fall in love with clogging. It offers so much variety… it can be easy or very challenging… it can be country or hip hop… However, because it requires an up-beat tempo (regardless of genre), it is rarely dreary or depressing. It has an uplifting effect on your spirit.

3. What’s better, nail on or glue on taps?

I prefer nails.

4. What do you prefer, the split toe clogging shoe or the stomper?

I use Mr. Stompers. I have never tried the split toe shoes. We dance a lot on varied surfaces and I rely on the durability of the stomper. I often even add more sole (from a local cobbler) to the stomper to avoid burn-through.

5. How long have you been clogging?

21 years

More to come about Andy Howard!

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