The season is in full swing for the Maricopa 4H Cloggers, the longest-running 4H group in all of Maricopa County and the oldest clogging performance group in Arizona.
The dance group is run solely by volunteers and consists of 25 kids ages 6 to 18.
But the group has been around for 39 years, led by 40-year-veteran clogger Michele Nelson and 22-year-veteran clogger Vicki Johnson.
Clogging is a traditional American step dance, similar to tap dancing, it originated in the Appalachian Mountains roughly 200 years ago.
“Clogging is a folk dance, and you can incorporate anything into it, whereas ballet and tap are more structured, clogging is more open-ended, you can do anything with it,” Johnson explained.
The dance differs from tap dancing mainly because of the shoes cloggers wear. They’re called double-toe tap shoes and have two pieces of metal in the toe and heel clapping together when the dancer steps.
“It’s able to give it a distinct sound. When you hear tap dancing versus clogging, you can always tell which is clogging because it has that little extra jingle,” said 16-year-old Rebekah Slayton, an Ahwatukee resident and one of the student leaders of the group.
Traditional clogging is set to country music, but Maricopa 4H Cloggers incorporate many different types of music and styles into their routines.
“It’s pretty wide-spread and it includes a lot of different styles,” Rebekah explained. “Here is kind of that more traditional style, where it’s country music, and you’re more flatfoot. Still, you can adapt clogging into different styles. We have a jazz style dance and some modern.
“We do still have some of that traditional country in there, but you can play around with the styling,” she added.
The team meets once a week for practices and has performed at parades, competitions, state fairs and festivals. Most recently, the group performed during the annual Christmas Parade in Prescott.
“Performances are probably my favorite because you get to learn how to organize a performance and organize the dances and get everyone in line,” Rebekah said, adding:
“It’s just people management skills, I guess, you learn how to organize people to meet a certain goal, and you have to do it under pressure, so it’s good for real-life experiences.”
In addition to performances, the team also participates in community service events throughout the year, such as the recent “Trick or Treat so Others Can Eat” event in October, where the group collected over 400 pounds of canned goods to help those in need.
For practices and performances, the kids are grouped into various levels based on skill level, and many of the older students are given the opportunity to lead and teach the less experienced groups.
“One of my personal favorite things is doing it with friends. My second favorite thing is I get leadership and teaching opportunities, which has been really useful,” said Ruth Twogood, 15, an advanced dancer and student leader.
Older students have the opportunity to run for an assortment of leadership positions.
“I got to be treasurer last year and it was a really good opportunity to learn how to manage finances because when you’re older, you’re going to have to learn how to do it eventually. And it’s just a great social opportunity. It’s not all about being social, you’ve got to think about dancing, but you also get to meet great people,” said 15-year-old Paul Stokes, another advanced dancer and student leader.
The Maricopa 4H Cloggers will be opening their roster for registration in January.