Folk Festival keeps a tradition of dance alive in N.C.

A pretty cool thing happened at the fair this weekend – one of those things that reminds you of North Carolina culture and makes you love the N.C. State Fair. I was on a mission to check out the leatherwork artist that Funhouse featured in a previous post here on the Deep Fried blog. I was making my way through the Village of Yesteryear in the Gov. James E. Holshouser Building when I ran into a classmate from college. More specifically, we played the same instrument in the marching and pep bands.

Leah Catherine and I chatted a little as her husband tried to get their three-year-old son to sit still for just a little longer as an artist finished cutting out his old-timey silhouette. Then said she had to run off to go dancing. I remembered from college that she was a clogger, so I immediately knew she was headed to Dorton Arena to dance in the N.C. State Fair Folk Festival.

I took the reminder as an excuse to go check out the festival. What I found was a relaxed competition environment where dancers didn’t hide backstage. Instead that socialized out on the arena floor, and some practiced just outside the arena doors. Interestingly, they drew a crowd outside among the people passing by.

“It’s sharing the tradition of clogging and folk dancing with the younger generation in North Carolina,” Leah Catherine told me. “We have dance studios all over the place but not a lot of people think or know about clogging.”

It warmed my heart to hear her talk so easily and confidently about a hobby she’s enjoyed for decades now. I could tell how important this particular folk dance is to her and how much she yearns to have more young people interested in learning to clog.

Leah Catherine has been coming to the State Fair to clog since before our college days. She’s seen plenty of changes. Some she likes. Some she doesn’t. Regardless, she continues to come back out of love of the dance and out of a desire to be sure young people have a chance to be exposed to a dance they may not have thought about before.

I also got a chance to talk to Leah Jackson who clogs on the “Rhythm with a Reason” dance team out of Clayton. She’s been clogging at the State Fair for about ten years.

“I like the energy here. It’s just fun to perform without the pressure of competition,” she said. “We’re just performing for the fun of it.”

The Folk Festival is a competition though, just without the intense feeling of many others. It’s all about sharing the art of folk dancing and folk music, and it was fun to watch. One little girl participated by singing and playing the fiddle.

One thing I didn’t see was any of the cloggers dance to the live band. Leah Catherine says that happens in some of the dancing divisions. It’s something that goes way back to traditional roots – a time before pre-recorded music was the norm.

“So you have to listen and find your beat, and then dance to whatever song they’re playing,” she explained. “It’s one of the fun challenges for the dancers. They don’t know what song they’ll be making their formations to.”

That’s one thing I sure would like to see. There are also some other forms of folk dance that are part of the festival. It’s a good thing it happens on five days of the fair. I’ll have a chance to go back and see more.

About Tractor Pull

Tractor Pull is the fair-themed alias for Brandon Herring, a public information officer in the Public Affairs Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He's no stranger to the fair or the farm. A North Carolina native, he grew up helping on the family farm just east of Lumberton. After more than 15 years in TV news, he's sharing news of a different kind these days. He loves the rides on the fair's midway, but also loves that the fair has so many other things to see and do that are grounded in agriculture. His favorite fair food is a funnel cake with just powdered sugar - a classic!

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