There is no mistaking the clank of a clogger walking.
Imagine the sound of 700 cloggers who wear shoes with double-hinged metal taps and heels layered in leather to cushion a force equal to five times their body weight.
Such is the thunder that fills the meeting rooms of Adam’s Mark Hotel this weekend as it welcomes the Nickel City Clogging Festival.
“We make a lot of noise,” said Hanna Healy, who lives in Springville. The 36-year-old attorney has clogged for 26 years. She took her first lessons Tuesday nights in a wood-floor tavern in Lime Lake, in the Town of Machias, Cattaraugus County.
“When I started I was already tap dancing,” said Healy, president of the Western New York Cloggers Association. “And now I’m married to a clogger from Barrie, (Ont.).”
Recreational clogging is the theme of this weekend’s festival, with almost 100 workshops offered in various skill levels taught by instructors from around the country. Jeff Driggs, 53, of West Virginia, and Joel Harrison, 31, of Lincoln, Neb., offered distinctly different styles of teaching.
“I teach in schools and churches,” said Driggs, who is a recreational clogging instructor. “When people hear clogging they think of the Grand Ole Opry and the Appalachian style, and that’s still a part of clogging. But today’s competition dancers have added River Dance, percussive dance. That’s why they call clogging the melting pot of stepdances,”
Harrison, who teaches out of a studio, wears green flip-flops and sweatpants. As a competitive clogger, his skills have taken him to the final round of “America’s Got Talent.”
“Everybody dances for different reasons,” said Harrison. “Some people dance to learn new steps. Some people want to get in shape. I do more of the challenging step classes.”
At age 69, Bonnie Linhardt of East Aurora has the heart of a 50-year-old, according to her cardiologist. The smiling grandmother, who had triple bypass surgery five years ago, attributed her youthful heart to clogging.
“My heart is beating like a 50-year-old instead of somebody who will be 70 in September,” she said. “He said whatever I’m doing to keep it up. So I have to keep clogging.”
At age 13, her granddaughter Emily Linhardt started in tap and switched to clogging.
“You do more with your feet, and it doesn’t get boring,” said the eighth-grader at Iroquois Central Schools.
“Fun dances,” saved for evenings, allow all the cloggers to get on the floor together.
“The sound is amazing,” said Healy. “We hold the most amazing fun dances. There’s an energy to them.
That’s what Nickle City Festival is known for throughout the clogging world.”
The cloggers who gathered in Buffalo this weekend could dance to music in Germany, the Netherlands or any of the world’s clogging hot spots, including Australia.
“It doesn’t change from state to state or country to country,” said Healy.
In the United States, the West Coast has a huge clogging population. The Southern California Clogging Association has more than 1,000 members. In the South, there is a competition circuit drawing younger cloggers adept at complex moves, Healy said.
These cloggers know how to market their craft. A vendors bazaar sold clogging merchandise, including shoes from Salem, S.C., and T-shirts that read: “I Have OCD (Obsessive Clogging Disorder)” and “Play Hard Clog Hard.”
Florence Enman, who lives near Barrie, Ont., worked up a sweat during the Friday morning series of 50-minute workshops. Enman’s clogging shoes look a lot like bowling shoes except for the double-hinged taps that allow the shoes to ting when they strike a wooden floor. It’s different from a tap shoe sound, Enman said, because it’s metal on metal.
“You’ve got to love the music,” Enman said. “The music makes your feet go.”
Watch the cloggers do their thing in this video of the Nickel City Clogging Festival.