The tap-tap-tap-tap of clogging shoes could be heard from outside the Alachua County Fairgrounds’ warehouse on Saturday afternoon.
Gainesville’s first-ever clogging festival attracted everyone from toddlers to seniors with one thing in common — a knack for the high-energy, toe-stomping folk dance.
Event host Andy Howard said he discovered 47 active clogging teams in Florida. The Florida Clogging Festival, featuring workshops and a competition, aimed to give dancers a chance to qualify for national competitions in Nashville, Tennessee, and Asheville, North Carolina.
“When I was young, clogging was huge in the state of Florida,” Howard said. “For the last four years there has not been an opportunity in (Florida) for dancers to qualify for nationals.”
Howard, also director of American Racket clogging team, began clogging when he was 8.
“Clogging is known for being multigenerational,” he said. “There’s 3-year-olds and 83-year-olds and everything in between.”
A group of dancers kicked their feet up and tapped their heels against the asphalt at the field lot outside the competition’s stomping grounds. The Clogging Connection competition team commuted from Plant City, Florida, the night before.
Debbie Conn dictated which dances went next while her son Jamie coached ten dancing women.
“It’s a family team,” Conn said.
For Jocelyn Ivey, clogging competitions are no big deal. Ivey, 5, said she doesn’t get nervous.
“I imagine like we’re just practicing at the studio,” she said.
Inside, a line of blue curtains separated the backstage area from the rest of the warehouse. The tapping of metal against concrete grew louder and louder as groups of two and three practiced their routines.
Ivey, sporting light blue jean overalls adorned with red sequins, held onto a plush rabbit named Clogging Brownie.
“I’m doing four dances,” she said, before skipping off in her child size 10-and-a-half white shoes.
Divided into age groups and style of clogging, Howard compared the tournament to a cheerleading competition.
But at clogging events, team members participate in various dances ranging from solos to group dances.
Solo dancers compete against one another based on age group. They stand in a line in front of the judges, then rush toward them when the music starts. Each clogger shows off his or her style in fast-paced steps. Some throw high kicks, while others balance on their toes until the dancers are called back into line.
Then, one by one, they perform alone.
While clog-dancing duos and teams tap their toes and heels in synchronized routines, the judges look for precision, creativity and enthusiasm.
“I look for sound and rhythm,” Tori Obryant, one of the judges, said. “You want to make sure it’s clear. You want to be able to hear the feet.”
The five-hour long competition yielded positive results.
All eight teams qualified.
[A version of this story ran on page 4 on 2/16/2015 under the headline “Eight Florida teams qualify for national clogging competition"]
A group of clog dancers performs at Gainesville’s first clogging festival, which was on the Alachua County Fairgrounds on Saturday. Eight teams competed in the Florida Clogging Festival and will advance to two national competitions.