Part 2 of the Andy Howard American Racket Interview

Andy Howard is the director of American Racket. American Racket (Dance Company) features the sights and sounds of one of our, well, noisiest traditions… American Clogging and percussive dance! Productions feature some of the finest dancers in the country in a celebration of (loud) living traditions. These dancers have represented the United States in Brazil and Costa Rica and have opened for artists cuch as Bill Cosby, Sugar Ray, Ted Koppel, Dane Cook, Jimmy Lovelace, and Wayne Brady. American Racket is a guaranteed toe-tapping, hand-clapping good time for all and a celebration of what young adults are doing to revive and reinvent the dance culture of the United States.

Read Part 1 of the exclusive interview with Andy Howard from American Racket.

6. Where has clogging taken you?

Canada (twice), Brazil (twice), Costa Rica, Wales… I grew up performing at Dollywood during the summers. I taught courses at Florida State University and as a guest at University of Florida and several community colleges. I also taught at the Florida Dance Festival in Miami and for the Florida Dance Associations’ “Young Dancer Conferences” in various Florida regions. I was awarded a full scholarship to research clogging while teaching at Florida State University; my Master’s (M.A.) is in American Dance Studies. I have always enjoyed the opportunity to dance my favorite dance with my favorite people.

7. Why do you recommend clogging to EVERYONE?

If you don’t try it, you’ll never know what you’re missing out on. I can’t imagine my life without clogging, or my clogging family.

8. Who has been the most influential clogger to you?

Bascom Lamar Lunsford. He was the organizer of the 1928 festival where clogging was born. He, no doubt, did the most to promote the style and also old-time music, including work with the Smithsonian. Of course, I never met Bascom because he passed in the 1970s before i was born. I have studied him quite a bit and I can relate with him a great deal. We also have many random similar interests/experiences. For instance, he spent a short time beekeeping and my cousins are beekeepers, so I was raised around beekeeping. Lots of random stuff… If you’ve seen videos or photos, you can tell Lunsford was very proud of the styles and did his best to share the knowledge with others. In terms of a contemporary hero, I would say Scotty Bilz. Scotty is very well known for his contributions to clogging, but he is also a Florida boy. In my opinion, Scotty helped put Florida on the map as a (once) clogging Mecca. His style also influenced most Florida competition teams, especially in the 1980s and 90s. Although I never danced directly for Scotty, the style of clogging that I grew up on is heavily influenced by Scotty’s work with those who taught me, etc.

9. How can help promote clogging to the masses even more?

I have a theory about the “decline” in clogging since the 1990s. As teams got more advanced, clogging groups became less community based and more specialty based. You see more teams with dancers from many different communities (often different states), and less teams that are from the same hometown. Although this aided in the level of the dancing, we see on stage, now less people are teaching beginners and investing in small-town or community teams. We are missing the entry stage of the clogging ecosystem. I think clogging instructors should work together to invest in clogging on the local/regional level and invest in teaching beginners of all ages. I believe that the lack of available instruction (on all levels) has resulted in a decline. We have to take time to teach!… and teach teachers!

10. What do you think of traditional clogging vs. the new hip-hop/jazz type clogging?

We need both. I completely support progressive adaptations to our dance style. I also think it is important to keep the traditional styles in practice. It is like having a museum with different “wings” for historic and contemporary art. I admit that I enjoy both, but I have benefited most from knowing and understanding the traditional.

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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