Northumberland Clog Dancing, NorthumberlandNot all folk dances have to do with the merry month of May-o. Clog dancing, though some claim it originated in medieval times, is generally thought to have developed as a folk art in the 19th century. Mill workers were shod in wooden clogs as leather would rot too quickly in contact with the floors of cotton and woollen mills kept wet to increase humidity (to reduce processing problems caused by static electricity). As the shuttles raced across looms toes would naturally tap in time. It was inevitable that competition between workers would start; progressing from that to demonstrations of ability, and soon to music hall performances ( Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel both earned early coppers that way) or just a few quick steps in the pub.
In Northumberland and Durham the dance was taken up by miners. A distinctive style emerged there, with minimal upper body movement, generally male solo with the accompaniment of a fiddle or with luck Northumbrian pipes; less showy than the Lancashire version, some may say more dignified; and the use of the heel tap was more prominent in the North East than Lancashire and Cheshire . The Northumberland style suited ‘pedestal dancing’ – sometimes the top of a beer barrel used as a tiny stage.
Though the heyday of the dance was before WWI it never quite died out, and these days is celebrated as a folk custom well worth preserving with festivals at places like Washington , and displays organised in visitor hotspots such as Wallington near Morpeth .
More British Folk Customs?