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Flatfoot dancing is hard to define. ‘‘The music just goes in your ear, down through your soul, and comes out through your feet,’’ an elderly West Virginia flatfoot dancer of note once said. So perhaps we can say that flatfoot dancing is the mountain artistic reaction to hard-driving fiddle music.

The term is often used interchangeably with clogging, but it should not be. Clogging is more structured and has certain universally accepted steps. Cloggers often raise their feet high off the floor, some kicking higher than their head. They often keep a steady shuffle with one foot, freeing the other foot and leg to do some fancy moving. And clogging is often done in teams. Flatfoot dancers, on the other hand, dance solo and tend to keep both feet close to the floor. The steps are not quite so fancy, and there are no standard steps. Among the old-time flatfoot dancers, the movement was often backward. Hence, many of them referred to it as ‘‘backstep dancing.’’ Two of West Virginia’s better known traditional musicians, Phoeba Parsons and her brother, Noah Cottrell, always referred to it as ‘‘backstepping.’’

Close observation of a good West Virginia flatfoot dancer will reveal a combination of several different kinds of dancing. There is a little of the Irish stepdance in it, sometimes a little polka shuffle can be observed, and perhaps a step or two has been borrowed from what Southern blacks called tap dancing. But the best part of it all is that every flatfoot dancer tends to do it a little different. It is the expression of how that particular dancer feels about the music that he or she is hearing. Good flatfoot dancers feel the hard drive of a fiddle deep in their spine. They put their soul on display and proudly demonstrate with the movement of their feet all of the good things about living in West Virginia.

This Article was written by Mack Samples


Cite This Article

Samples, Mack "Flatfoot Dancing." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 22 February 2011. Web. 22 October 2017.

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