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(?)