Many who enjoy the music of this area are familiar with the traditional style of dance known as clogging.
Clogging dancers use their feet and a special pair of shoes to create a rhythm while dancing. Most closely associated with bluegrass and old-time music, this type of dance pre-dates tap dancing and was developed from a mixture of Irish, English, Scandinavian, German, and even Cherokee dancing.
The Surry Arts Council offers clogging classes every Tuesday, beginning at 5 p.m., with instructor Samantha Wilhelmi of Floyd, Va. A new, beginner-level clogging class is starting on March 1 from 7:15 to 8 p.m.
The sounds of clogging could be heard on the walkway outside of the dance studio at the Surry Arts Council on Tuesday evening. The students followed the lead of the instructor, 19-year-old Wilhelmi. She took them through each choreographed step and stopped occasionally to make sure they followed along and performed the steps correctly before she moved on to the next section.
“Think about relaxing your feet. Now start again — 2, 3, 4…” Wilhelmi said, while praising the students as they performed the routine.
The clogging sounds that filled the studio seemed to vibrate the walls, creating a percussive rhythm that could be clearly heard, but also felt, which is part of the appeal of clogging. The tapping was created in a variety of ways through the way the dancers’ feet moved with the choreographed steps — steps with names like “whole turkey” and “fancy double.”
Even as the students lifted their legs, their clogging shoes made a softer tapping sound.
The clogging steps performed by Wilhelmi and her students, when accompanied with the rhythms of the music, created a new song — a blend of clogging and music, a new sound created by the physical steps of the dancers.
Wilhelmi has been clogging for around 13 years. Her interest began at the age of 3, after she attended dances in Floyd with her family. She already was involved with tap and ballet classes, and the rhythms and style of clogging appealed to her, but the dance academy she was enrolled in did not offer clogging.
At around age 5 or 6, Wilhelmi started attending a different dance academy, one that offered clogging, and her love for that style of dance was born.
She still takes ballet classes, but clogging is Wilhelmi’s preferred style of dance.
“I love the percussion and the rhythm of the dance. It is not confining; it is expressive, especially freestyle clogging, which I really enjoy. I also love the choreographed style of clogging, but the freestyle clogging, like you see at fiddlers conventions in the area, is my favorite.”
Wilhelmi has competed in several fiddlers’ conventions, winning first place at the Fries Fiddlers Convention in 2012 and placing second at the Alleghany Fiddler’s Convention two years ago. She also competed in the several Mount Airy Fiddlers Conventions.
Clogging is different than tap dancing, according to Wilhelmi, because the beats created with the dancer’s feet are made with special “jingle taps” affixed to the bottom of the shoes. The jingle taps are fitted loosely on the bottom of the shoe and attached to a stationary tap, which causes the shoe to make a special tapping sound when it hits the stationary tap and then the floor.
Surry Arts Council began offering the clogging classes in 2009. Wilhelmi was attending the old-time dances held on the first Saturday of each month at the Old-Time Music Heritage Hall, which is now located at the Earle Theatre.
SAC Executive Director Tanya Jones noticed Wilhelmi, who was only 16 years old at the time, and asked her to lead a clogging workshop prior to the dances. After success with the workshops, Wilhelmi began teaching the weekly clogging class at the dance studio located below the Andy Griffith Museum.
Cloggers enrolled in the class are encouraged to participate in competitions and performances, with several opportunities to showcase their talents throughout the year by performing in the Rhythm on Main dance recitals. Local fiddler’s conventions also have clogging competitions, as well as regional competitions, where the winners have the chance to move on to state and national clogging competitions.
Wilhelmi loves all types of music, and in her clogging classes, she uses everything from bluegrass, to old-time, and more contemporary music.
The students in the classes are primarily adult women, but Wilhelmi encourages more young people to attend. Anyone who is age 7 or older is welcome to enroll in the classes at a cost of $25 per month. Wilhelmi also teaches private clogging lessons.
Anyone interested in enrolling in the group or private clogging classes can call Samantha Wilhelmi at 540-392-5257 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Jessica Johnson at email@example.com or 719-1933.