Foot-stompin’, hand-clappin’, fiddle-playin’ fun |

Foot-stompin’, hand-clappin’, fiddle-playin’ fun

Laura A. Ball
Special to the DailyEileen Carson, center, founded the Fiddle Puppet Dancers in 1979, which evolved into Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble. Inspired by Appalachian, Irish, Scottish, English, French-Canadian, South African and African-American culture, the Footworks dancers clog, step, gumboot and tap on stage Sunday at the Ford Amphitheater in Vail.

VAIL ” When Eileen Carson first laid her eyes on the feet of a group of cloggers at the Union Grove Festival in North Carolina, a strange feeling took hold of her.

Using only their feet and a piece of wood, the dancers were not performing. They were not even on stage. They were merely percussion instruments accompanying a live band.

“It’s an individual pursuit where the dancer feels very connected to the music,” she said.

Carson, who had studied classical and modern ballet, was just 17 years old then, but she had “caught the bug,” she said.

Giving up her years of ballet training to pursue her new-found love, she founded the Fiddle Puppet Dancers.

Soon, folk festivals scattered along the East Coast began inviting the puppet dancers to perform, and it was the first time clogging had been seen out of its region. As the dancers toured to various festivals, they would come in contact with other forms of percussive dance such as Irish step dance, African and African-American dance, step dancing, gumboot dancing and tap.

Over time, the company learned and introduced all of these freestyle techniques into its show, which is now a pastiche of Appalachian, Irish, Scottish, English, French, Canadian, South African and African-American culture and tradition.

With many new influences in its repertoire, the company evolved into the Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble.

“It’s sort of like a historic homage,” Carson said of the company’s patchwork style.

“It’s also a product of our journey, which we started as cloggers from a social place and loved it so much we started choreographing and performing. We saw it as a valid art form and wanted to present it on stage while trying to stay true to it.

“There’s a lot of places in the show where there’s improv, which is truer to the tradition of dance, but it is a stage show, which is almost a contradiction.”

What results is an audience clapping, stomping and marveling at the skillful and diverse talents before them.

Carson also lends her voice to the live music that is integral to the performance. Accompanied by a quartet of fiddle, guitar, mandolin and bass, the group shifts from wistful Celtic ballads to energetic Appalachian stepping without hesitation.

The Footworks dancers also join in the music-making when they pick up accordions, drums and fiddles, not to mention rubber boots, soda bottles and water-cooler jugs. If it can make noise, Footworks can transform it into a form of artistic expression.

In addition to the free Sunday family matinee, Footworks will also perform a free mini-show in conjunction with the dance festival’s Village Vignettes program today at noon in Beaver Creek’s upper plaza.

Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 748-2939 or

Vail, Colorado

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