Our main purpose is to enjoy clog dancing, which we do wearing traditional English wooden soled clogs. In addition to clog dancing we also perform a number of step dances mostly from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. We wear authentically reproduced costumes with clog or hard step shoes depending on the dance. Performing has taken the Newcastle Cloggies all over the world, including France, Belgium, Italy, the USA, Sweden, Russia, Poland and Denmark. The Cloggies have also appeared at major festivals in England and Scotland.
Recently, in addition to dancing at local Heritage Days and local fundraising events, the Cloggies have visited schools and youth groups, such as Girl Guides and Cubs, to demonstrate their dancing and give younger people an opportunity to learn the social history of the dances, music and costume, and to participate in the dancing
The group attempt to recreate dances as accurately as possible, frequently from original sources it has researched. The clog dances come from areas where the working people wore clogs as part of their everyday clothes. Many were solo dances performed in pubs and at competitions, the intricacies of the steps being jealously gaurded. In the North-West, the steps were incorporated into reels for social gatherings. Dancers in Scotland and the South of England did not wear clogs, but still used to ‘step’ in both solo and social dances. The Newcastle Cloggies enjoy performing a very wide variety of these step dances.
The costume is a reconstruction of the distinctive working clothes and Sunday Best of the local communities who depended on boats and fish for livelihoods. The heavy navy blue woollen skirts of the Cullercoats fishwives (see illustration right) have many horizontal tucks and it is said that you could tell how well off a fishwife was by the number of tucks she had in her skirt. The pleats in the heavy skirts were said to allow for them to be lenghtened for growth. The working apron was in white cotton and also had pleats like a skirt (probably used for gutting fish etc then could be boiled washed), it had a money pocket fastened around the waist under a pinny. The cloggies perform in both types of apron. Fish wives were not needle women (so it’s believed) and so did not have buttons or button holes on the blouses. A brooch kept it together and a neckerchief was also worn for ‘best’ a pinny was made in the material of the blouse – so that it looked like a dress.
Under the skirts are worn bright red flannallete underskirt, and also bloomers in white cotton (see illustration)
The Newhaven fishwives used to dress up to sell their fish in Edinburgh. the costume insludes two skirts and an apron, tucked up to form a bustle at the back, providing padding for the heavy creel of fish she carried on her back.
The men wear the stylish shore going outfits of the Newcastle Keelmen including white bellbottom trousers and top hat. As an alternative the traditional blue gansey (jersey) of the North East fishermen is worn, which identified the seaman’s home village or community. This was vital when drowning at sea was common.
Clog and step dancing has been performed to almost every kind of musical instrument and almost every type of music. the Cloggies dance to traditional instruments, the accordion, fiddle and flute. Particular care has been taken to match the characteristics of each dance with its tune, and where possible, each dance is accompanied by a tune from its own area.