The Chronicle asked me to profile a group appearing in the fast-approaching San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. I chose the Barbary Coast Cloggers, an all-male company that performs Appalachian dance. The guys were so friendly and so enthusiastic about their dance form that the article pretty much wrote itself:
” “Foot-slap back, now do-si-do,” says the mild-mannered man wearing the headset. The guys do as they’re told, jingle taps clacking as they skim the tile floor, smiles widening as they jump and click their heels. Over the sound system, fiddles rev into overdrive. “Now look at your feet — that’s kind of cute if you want to do it, but look right back up.”
This is not a square-dance convention, or a low-tech re-enactment of a Garth Brooks video. This is San Francisco’s Jon Sims Center for the Performing Arts on a Thursday, where the Barbary Coast Cloggers rehearse late into the night. “Turn on those triples,” leader Matt Ellinger says. “The footwork is awful there, and I think it’s just nerves.”
The guys in the room are white and Asian, potbellied and beanpole thin, dressed in baggy jeans and super-short ’70s-style swim trunks. But the really remarkable thing is that they’re all men.
Clogging, historically the province of manly Appalachian stompers, has in recent decades become more popular with little girls in sequined skirts. Around the globe, grade-schoolers with ponytails now hoof it up to the latest rap hit, vying for ribbons and trophies. The Barbary Coast Cloggers don’t do the competition circuit, and they don’t do Top 40 — well, most of the time. “People are just so shocked to see us dance to Jennifer Lopez,” Ellinger says. “But the only way that works for us is if it’s the exception.” ”
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