Rodney Clay Sutton is a dance performer and teacher of Appalachian step dance – both flatfoot and clogging. He calls square dances and contra dances, and is a storyteller and ballad singer. Rodney offers workshops, lectures, and demonstrations catered for a range of age groups, including youth, seniors, and corporate gatherings. He is also a concert and festival producer, emcee, and stage manager.
On March 4th, 2019, Rodney Sutton was one of 9 folks selected to receive a first ever Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship from South Arts. He was able to use the monies to go to Ireland for a month in September of 2019 to study Sean Nos` dance – the Irish step-dance equivalent to flat-footing. Read more – https://www.southarts.org/individual-artists/folk-traditional-arts-master-artist-fellowships/2019-folk-traditional-arts-master-artist-fellows/
Rodney will be teaching workshops this at various festivals and dance camps this spring and summer.
Video Links – helpful for any current or future percussive dancers!
I promised to add links to a couple of websites where you can view dozens of old-time flat/foot, buck, and clog dancers.
This is the oldest video of old-time flatfooting/buckdancing that I have found – This silent film was recorded for Elizabeth Burchenal, the noted folk dance leader and researcher. It was on a reel of film labeled “Square Dancing in Southern Mountains 1919-1931” that also includes footage of southern Appalachian square dances.
This video has old footage of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, the dancer is not identified.
More video of Bascom filmed by David Hoffman, 1965. This is some of my favorite flatfooting/buckdancing – Bill McElreath – “knocking out a tune” as Bascom called it. Both Bascom and his friend Freda also dance.
This video will be moved to a new page with other videos listed below. This is some of the only footage of Willard Watson with audio. He and zydeco musician Bois Sec Ardoin are flatfooting to the fiddling of Clark Kessinger with Gene Meade on guitar! Willard will not face the camera – thinking it would be impolite to turn his back on the music! When Willard is dancing to “Chicken Reel” he does all of his barn-yard steps! This was filmed at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival at a huge mansion that was used to house the performers. Willard Watson at 1965 Newport Folk Festival
These are two more recent short videos of my mentor and one of my best friends ever – Robert Dotson – the source of the “Walking Step”!
Floating Dancer: The Story of Robert Dotson, the Walking Step & the Green Grass Cloggers By Leanne E. Smith and M. Chad Smith
In Memory of Robert Dotson By Rebecca Branson Jones
Here’s one that is a documentary by Mike Seeger and Ruth Pershing called “Talking Feet” filmed in 1983. I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in this historical film! Talking Feet
Here is the link to Phil Jamison’s website – he videoed dozens of traditional percussive mountain dancers in 1993. WNC Buckdancers, Flatfooters, and Charleston Dancers (1993)
Here are two links to the Green Grass Cloggers –
Website – http://www.greengrasscloggers.com/
Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/GreenGrassCloggers/
Stepping Up to the Challenge
Stepping Up to the Challenge is a sneaky title of a workshop in percussive dance that Rodney designed as a way to not scare off folks who think they cannot dance. He has more than 40 years of experience teaching beginners how to clog, and he can teach anyone who can walk how to dance.
In 2005, Rodney was a member of an arts advisory group—consisting of professional actors, storytellers, musicians and dancers—who were tasked with finding ways to integrate traditional art forms into the curriculum of multi-day corporate team-building retreats. The initial concept was intended to place people from different levels of corporate management in a new environment—not an office or boardroom, and not another outdoor ropes course—so they could all experience trying something new for the first time together.
Rodney has continued to use his Stepping Up to the Challenge workshop to share his love of teaching traditional percussive dance, specifically Appalachian clogging and flatfooting, with professional development and team-building gatherings.
In these hour-long sessions, he is able to break down and teach a basic clogging step using recorded traditional music. No partner is needed, and he uses a very low impact approach that anyone can learn. The workshop allows participants to use their feet to become a drummer to any type of music. Though the emphasis is on teaching clogging to individuals—so that, as he says, “You only have to worry about stepping on your own toes”—he also demonstrates how dancing traditional square dance figures create ways of cooperation and trust between participants.
Get Your Kicks Clogging
Rodney Sutton has performed under the names The Fiddle Puppet, Mr. Limberjack, and Cornmeal Sutton during his forty plus years of bringing his love of Appalachian step-dancing to audiences across the US, Canada and the British Isles. His “Get Your Kicks Clogging” program is a lively performance that is easily adapted to any setting and age group.
He shares the history of Appalachian step-dancing in an informative and entertaining manner and demonstrates the steps that define flatfooting, buck dancing, and clogging, while weaving stories of his friendship with Watauga County, North Carolina dance legends, Willard Watson and Robert Dotson.
Be prepared to join in the fun as Rodney encourages his audiences to participate in his shows by learning a simple version of Robert Dotson’s famous Walking Step, and he will take participants on a journey out into Willard Watson’s barnyard to give Willard’s animal dances a try.
With Rodney incorporating sing-a longs, hamboning, and a sit-down square dance, it all adds up to guaranteed FUN for all ages!
This program can include live music by one of his many friends on fiddle and banjo, along with explanations of the role these two instruments “play” in the evolution of clogging.
Passionate About Possums
Join Rodney Sutton as he weaves stories and curious facts about the most unusual of all creatures: the lovable marsupial – the opossum.
Rodney uses puppets and his amazing collection of possum paraphernalia as he tells the entertaining story of his pet possum Flat Alf, which is also revealed in the children’s book Alfred the Possum: On the Road with The Green Grass Cloggers written by Leanne E. Smith and illustrated by Madalyn McLeod. The book chronicles the life of Alfred with amusing tales of a tiny possum who aspires to become a clogger.
This performance includes possum sing-along songs and learning the famous possum dance! A special appearance by the original mummified Alfred, who has resided in a pizza box since 1996, highlights the show. You can’t make this stuff up!
In addition to calling regularly scheduled square dances and contra dances, Rodney is available to lead special occasion dances for events such as weddings, anniversaries, and other gatherings.
At weddings, in particular, Rodney is known for his ability to effortlessly include non-dancers and to motivate social interaction among the newlyweds’ families and friends.
These same techniques carry over to encouraging merriment at all types of celebrations.
Rodney Sutton joined the Green Grass Cloggers in 1972 after first being told by its founder, Dudley Culp, he would “never make a “clogger”! He stuck with it and now over these past five decades, he has shared his love of clogging with thousands of folks by teaching workshops for beginners at camps and festivals around the country, so that no one else will be told, or led to believe, that they cannot dance. Using the often quoted line, “If you can walk, then you can dance” to inspire, Rodney prides himself on being able to teach anyone Appalachian Clogging steps that will turn you into your own percussive dancer and allow you to be a foot drummer to any kind of music!
These days Rodney is known mostly for his smooth flatfooting – a percussive dance style that was the precursor to today’s clogging. He is also a caller, musician, storyteller, a veteran of the early days of the Green Grass Cloggers, and co-founder of the Fiddle Puppets (now known as Footworks). He has traveled all across the US, Canada, Ireland, Scotland and England – performing and teaching clogging/flatfooting, and calling square and contra dances. Rodney also produces, stage manages and emcees outdoor festivals and concerts. He served as the Director of Joe Shannon’s Mountain Home Music Concerts in Boone, North Carolina – producing over 90 traditional music concerts from 2014-2021.
Rodney was born on November 5, 1950 and is a native of the Outlaw’s Bridge community of Duplin County in eastern North Carolina, where his family has danced and played music for generations. Rodney is a prominent and highly respected representative of the dance and music traditions of his home state. He graduated from East Carolina University in 1973 with a BS degree in intermediate education and taught Junior High School in Bertie County, NC for four years. After fulfilling his obligations as a part of his NC Perspective Teacher Scholarship to teach in an under served area, in 1977 he accepted an offer to take a year off from classroom teaching to attend graduate school, “or” to broaden ones education by travel. Rodney chose the latter and played a pivotal roll in forming the GGC’s road team and as they say “the rest is history”!
Rodney joined the Green Grass Cloggers in 1972 and was an early member and director (’77-’79) of the GGC road team. Today he is a member of the Asheville Team who along with their eastern fellow cloggers from Greenville, NC, have danced in recent years at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, the Philadelphia Folk Festival, Lake Eden Arts Festival, the Appalachian Stringband Music Festival, the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival, The Hoppin’ John Fiddlers Concvention and MerleFest. He was also a co-founder and principle dancer of the Fiddle Puppets(1979-1990), now known as Footworks – a traditionally based innovative dance team that has toured around the world and who celebrated their 40th Anniversary in 2019.
In 1985, Rodney was selected by Mike Seeger to be included in the Smithsonian Documentary video, “Talking Feet”. At the time he was one of the youngest dancers to be featured in this collection of live recordings of traditional flatfoot and buck dancers from the Appalachian Mountains. In September of 2015, a memes of Rodney and the Fiddle Puppets flatfooting was lifted from Talking Feet. Called “The Techno Family”, it was posted on Facebook and now over 200 million folks from around the world have viewed versions of this video!
Rodney returned to NC from Annapolis, MD in 1989, moved to Marshall in Madison County and rejoined the GGC. He has taught traditional dance in western North Carolina schools through the NCAC Visiting Artist Program(1989-1993), and is a regular instructor at such camps as the Swannanoa Gathering (Warren Wilson College), Grass Roots Culture Camp (Trumansburg, NY, and Key Biscayne, FL), Augusta Heritage Workshops (Davis and Elkins College, Elkins, WV), and Fiddle and Dance (Ashokan, NY).
Aside from all of his dance related endeavors, Rodney has found time over the years to volunteer with numerous non-profit organizations. He played a pivotal role in reforming the Madison County Arts Council in 1995 and served as its President for five years. During that time he co-founded the Bluff Mountain Music Festival, which continues to this day as a major fundraiser for MCAC. Rodney also was a founding board member of the Junior Appalachian Musicians program, serving for 10 years(2003-2013) along side of JAM founder, Helen White.
In 2012, Rodney received the Sam Queen Award from the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival Folk Heritage Committee in Asheville, NC. The award “acknowledges enthusiasm in keeping smooth and clog dance styles a vital part of recreation and entertainment.” Sam Queen was the first dancer to be inducted into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame in 2008. In 2019, Rodney was one of nine artist selected to receive a first ever Folk and Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship from South Arts. He currently is participating as a mentor on a yearlong NC Appalachian Folk Life Apprenticeship Grant where he is teaching Willard Cline Watson III dance steps that Rodney learned back in the 1970’s from Blue Ridge Hall of Fame member, Willard Watson Sr.
Rodney was recently notified that he has been selected to be inducted in the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame on March 26, 2022 at the Wilkes Heritage Museum in historic downtown Wilkesboro, North Carolina. The induction ceremony will include performances by inductees and other well known artists.
Rodney is currently an adjunct professor at East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music program where he teaches traditional dance to new generations of students interested in participating in traditional music and dance!
Joe Shannon’s Mountain Home Music. Boone, NC.
– Executive Director(2014-2021).
– Joe Shannon’s Mountain Home Music Presents Annual Appalachian Christmas Concert for Charity. 13 December 2018. Derek Halsey. Mountain Times [Boone, NC].
– Rodney Sutton Named Mountain Home Music Director. 1 May 2014. Jesse Campbell. Mountain Times [Boone, NC].
East Tennessee State University’s College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Appalachian Studies – Bluegrass, Old-time and Country Music Studies.
Adjunct professor – 2017 – present.
Freelance Performing Artist, Dance Caller, and Workshop Leader.
TEACHING & EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP
Swannanoa Gathering. Warren Wilson College. Swannanoa, NC.
– Dance Instructor & Caller. Old-Time Week. 1990s-present.
– Coordinator & Instructor. Dance Week. 1994-1999.
Grass Roots Culture Camp. Trumansburg, NY, and Key Biscayne, FL.
– Clogging & Flatfooting Instructor. 2016-present.
East Tennessee State University. Johnson City, TN. 2017 – present
– Adjunct professor of Traditional Appalachian Dance.
Regional Junior Appalachian Musicians, Inc. 2003-2013.
– Founding Board Member
– Curriculum Developer – helped create teaching tools on the organization’s website.
– Clogging Instructor.
Leadership Institute, Elan Group, Inc. 2005.
– Arts Advisory Board Member – worked to incorporate traditional arts into team building workshops offered to large corporate companies
Augusta Heritage Center. Davis & Elkins College. Elkins, WV.
– Coordinator of Dance Week. 1989-1996.
North Carolina Visiting Artist Program. 1989-1993.
– Visiting Artist
McDowell Technical Community College, Marion, NC 1989-1991
Haywood Community College, Clyde, NC 1991 – 1993
Taught clogging workshops to 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students; presented programs on traditional music and dance to civic, community, and church groups
Bertie County Junior High School. Windsor, NC.
– Science teacher. 1973-1977.
NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION LEADERSHIP
Bluff Mountain Festival. Hot Springs, NC.
– Co-Founder (1995), Producer (1995-2005), and Volunteer Emcee (1995-present).
Madison County Arts Council. Marshall, NC.
– President (1995-2000) and Board Member (1993-present, on rotation) – helped reactivate MCAC, secured grant funds for programming and to hire MCAC’s first Executive Director, developed programming
Regional Junior Appalachian Musicians, Inc. 2003-2013.
– Co-Organizer for 501c3 nonprofit application process
Folk Heritage Committee. Asheville, NC. 2009-2012.
– Board Member – helped produce Shindig on the Green performance series on Saturday evenings, July through Labor Day, and the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in August
DANCE TROUPE EXPERIENCE
Green Grass Cloggers. Greenville & Asheville, NC. 1972-1979 & 1989-present.
– Bookings Coordinator. Asheville, NC. – presently organizes details for performances, including the Year of the Possum tour (2011)
– Director. Greenville, NC. 1977-1979 – helped coordinate effort to achieve 501c3 nonprofit status and secure NC Grassroots Grant funds to produce school performances featuring traditional old-time music and dance
Fiddle Puppets Dance Company. (now Footworks) Annapolis, MD. 1979-1989.
Co-founder, – Principal Dancer, Road Manager, Booking Agent.
SELECTED AWARDS & HONORS
Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame – Selected in Dance Category – January, 2022
South Arts Folk and Traditional Master Artist Fellowship – 2019 , Inaugural Year!
Sam Queen Award – Mountain Dance and Folk Festival Folk Heritage Committee Asheville, NC. 2012 – The award “acknowledges enthusiasm in keeping smooth and clog dance styles a vital part of recreation and entertainment.”
First Place. Dance, Senior Division. North Carolina State Fair Folk Festival. 2012-2015.
First Place. Various flatfoot/clogging dance competitions. 1978-present –
Mt. Airy Fiddlers Convention 19??,
Appalachian String Band Festival 2012, Clifftop, W. Va
Elk Creeks Fiddler’s Convention 2016(?)
To contact Rodney or book him for an event, please fill out the form below: