Interview with Dorothy Stephenson–a clog dancer

Dorothy grew up branding cattle and riding horses on her family’s ranch in Highland County, Virginia. In 1990, her mother enrolled her in a beginner Clogging class with the Little Switzerland Cloggers. From that day forward, Clogging was Dorothy’s passion, and it has even evolved into her full-time job.

Dorothy’s company, Sundance Studios & Productions specializes in Clogging instruction and performances. The company houses two groups: her long-time group, the Little Switzerland Cloggers, and her competitive group that was founded in 2005, Sundance Express. Dorothy and her dance partner, Graham Kershner, entertain professionally at The Homestead and The Greenbrier Resorts, two prestigious resorts in Hot Springs, Virginia, and White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, respectively. Occasionally, Sundance Express will travel along to entertain with Dorothy and Graham.

In 2008, Dorothy was surprised when she was inducted to the American Clogging Hall of Fame’s All-American Team at the World Clogging Championships in Maggie Valley, North Carolina.

In 2011, Dorothy will join with her fellow clogging colleague and best friend, Lisa Johnson, to form a mega team called Rhythmic Alliance. The team will pull together some of the top dancers from around Virginia to create an ultimate competitive team that will compete in the American Clogging Hall of Fame and Clogging Champions of America competitive circuits.

In addition, Dorothy is the creator of VirginiaClog.com, a website that is devoted to all things Clogging in Virginia.  She also performs with the Mountain Valley Players of Bath County, Virginia, and teaches at clogging workshops up and down the east coast. At the end of the day, she kicks back on the couch with her husband, Robby, and their cat, D.J. dorothy@sundancestudio.org

Dorothy Stephenson--Sundance StudiosWe had an email interview with Dorothy.

Q1. Tell us something about your childhood—how you got attracted to dance?

I wish I had some grand story of how I got attracted to dance, but honestly, my mother just took me to Clogging classes one day when I was five years old and plopped me down in the floor in the middle of a Clogging class with a “Here… give this a try!” attitude.

Q2. How you picked up clogging as your forte—what was the main factor that made you pick it up?

I live in a very rural farming area in Virginia, USA. When I was growing up, we didn’t have any dance studios or any exposure to the performing arts what so ever other than Clogging. And, actually, it took us about an hour to get to any grocery store because we had to cross five mountains to get to the next city.

Clogging was a popular dance in my area. It was the ONLY dance in the area. To get to my Clogging classes, my mother and I had to travel about 45 minutes farther back into the countryside – up and down curvy, dangerous roads with extreme sharp turns to get to a little community called Burnsville. I recently made the trip back to Burnsville for a friend’s baby shower. My mother must have loved me. I wouldn’t have made that trip once a week!

Q3. Did you took some training in this particular dance form?

Like I said earlier, I start Clogging lessons when I was five years old. I am now 26, so I have been Clogging for 21 years – over half of my life. I was dancing under an instructor until I was about 17 years old, and then I took over my long time performance team, the Little Switzerland Cloggers (this is the group that I started with in Burnsville. Luckily for me, the group had moved to a closer community!) I started teaching the group when I was 17, and I have been teaching ever since. Now, of course, I am always still training. You never stop training. There is always something new to learn. Mostly, I learn from clogging workshops or getting together and throwing around steps and ideas with friends.

Shoe style used for clogging
Shoe style used for clogging

Q4. What is the appeal of this dance form. Do you feel it can become popular in other countries?

Clogging can appeal to anyone and everyone because there in Clogging there is SOMETHING for everyone. Clogging was born in the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States. Originally, ti accompanied blue grass music and reflected the dance forms brought together in the Appalachians. A little from the Irish, a little from the Scottish, a little from the English, a little from the Dutch, a little from the Africans, and a little from the Native Americans – these new people had their differences, but one main thing that they could come together with was dance. And, that’s how Clogging was born. Clogging is known as the “melting pot of dances.”

Another good thing about Clogging is that it can be accompanied by a lot of different music and a lot of different styles. Clogging choreography can be performed to a wide variety of music from blue grass and country to rock, pop, and hip hop, to oldies. For the most part, if it’s got a beat, we can clog to it.

There are also many different styles. Some people like the traditional Clogging where women wore short dresses with puffy crinolines under their skirts, and choreography was performed to blue grass and country music. Others enjoy contemporary Clogging, that incorporates influences of hip hop, pointe, jazz, and… well… just about anything.

So, no matter what music you like. Whether you 7, 27, or 97 years old – I can pretty much guarantee that you will enjoy some form of Clogging.

Clogging has been featured in many other countries. Off the top of my head, I know Cloggers who have performed or taught in Hong Kong, Austrailia, Germany, Mexico, Canada, and England – just to name a few.

Q5. How you combine being a dancer and a web-designer on personal level? Do you feel creativity helps you in the technical world also?

For me, I think being a dancer and being involved with the performance arts keeps me very in touch with my heart and mind. As a dancer, passion is something that I must feel whenever I choreographing, teaching, rehearsing, or performing. With web-design, it is very much the same. I have to feel the passion that my client is feeling for their website and the reason for their website.

A person’s passion for what they do is a very special thing. In order to design a client’s site, whether it be for personal hobby or interest, for an event, or for a business, I must feel my client’s passion for they are doing. A website is not something that can just be thrown together from using a template. A website, for some, will be the first introduction to their business, hobby, or event to others. Something with that caliber can not be taken lightly. With experience from dance, I am able to tap into my client’s emotion for their site, and produce their emotion and passion for their business or event on a computer screen.

Clogging in Switzerland

Q6. Do you like other forms of dance?

I love ANY form of dance. I love watching classical ballroom. I love seeing hip hop dancers. I could watch the grace of a ballerina all day. I always enjoy seeing new dance forms and, also, learning about the history of that dance form and it’s people. Dance has been an expression of self for thousands and thousands of years. Dance tells the history of people and their country whether it be good or bad. Not only that, but it’s from the heart. It’s true.

Q7. Tell us about your practice schedule and how you pick up a theme for a particular show.

Most of my shows are a combination of many different styles and techniques, so that one audience (no matter where we are) can see all the different styles and techniques that Clogging has to offer. I incorporate routines that showcase traditional Clogging as well as contemporary and that is accompanied by a wide variety of music. Mostly older generations automatically appeal to Clogging because it is stereotyped as a dance for the older generations. However, when I’m dancing and I see a group of teenagers walk by. I want to be able to turn their heads, too. Most of the time I do. My group could be performing a traditional number to Ricky Scaggs (a well-known blue grass musician) and, in the next song we could be dancing to Jon Bon Jovi, Jennifer Lopez, or Kid Rock.

In my shows, I strive to have something for everyone.

Graham and Dorothy dancing Rodeo

Q8. Tell us what you like to do in your spare time.

In my spare time, I enjoy reading, writing, traveling, and learning. I am always open to experiencing something new and seeing new things and places. Also, I enjoy spending time with my husband and best friend, Robby.

Q9. What impact this dance form has on you as a person and how it helps you bring closer to a totally different culture?

With Clogging, I am exposed to many different cultures at the same time. Like I said earlier, Clogging has evolved from many different cultural backgrounds. Every year, it seems like something new is added to the art and it just keeps growing and growing.

As for an impact on my life, it has a huge impact on my life. My dancers and my students are one of the biggest impacts of Clogging. I am able to be involved with so many great kids, teens, and adults and I am blessed to be a part of their lives and I am blessed to be able to share a dance form with them that I love.

Personally, Clogging has allowed me to travel to a lot of neat places and meet a lot of cool people. Throughout my journey with Clogging, I have discovered who I am and who I want to be. There has definitely been triumph and heart ache (a lot of both), but it has definitely been worth it. I have learned so many life lessons through Clogging including trust, love, understanding, and personal dedication to myself. It’s been an amazing ride and I’m only 26, I can’t wait to see what the next 26 years will hold.

Q10. Any message for young dancers who want to pursue clogging but hail from different countries?

Clogging is most popular in the eastern United States, however, if you live in another country and want to learn Clogging, I suggested searching on YouTube for “Clogging” or Googling “Instructional Clogging Videos”.

One of my goals with Clogging is to, eventually, have online Clogging lessons. I have talked to many people who want to learn to Clog, but can not commit to coming to a class because they just flat out don’t have the time, or people who want to Clog but can’t find a group or studio to clog with.

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