Scott County Historical Society
Scott County, Virginia

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Mildred McConnell's Scrapbook Articles

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Alumni Feature

Floyd Sloan and the Rye Cove Cloggers

     The Rye Cove Cloggers are pretty well known in Southwest Virginia and the surrounding area, but even some of their most ardent fans probably don't know much about the man who founded the group nine years ago and continues today as its director. Floyd P. Sloan has spent endless hours training and promoting the cloggers but generally tries to make himself as unnoticeable as possible. Considering Floyd's lanky 6' 5" frame, that sometimes is quite a chore. And it was even harder when he brought the cloggers to Emory & Henry this fall to perform. A 1949 E & H graduate, Floyd received bear hugs and exclamations of welcome from classmate Connie Culberson and his wife Dot, both of whom are employed at the college.

     Then faculty member Eleanor Hutton, who was hosting the event, announced that the cloggers' director was an alumnus and asked him to stand; Floyd humbly (or perhaps obstinately) refused, obliging only with a wave from the front row seat where he had stationed himself to oversee the performance. His own pleasure seemed to come when the overflow audience immediately responded to the dancing with enthusiastic clapping and the traditional whoops and whistles. There was no denying his happiness at having the Rye Cove Cloggers make a hit at his alma mater.

     Floyd's feelings about Emory & Henry run deep, as evidenced by the letter he wrote to Mrs. Hutton at the time she invited him to bring the cloggers to campus. "I am delighted to be coming back to the campus, and my young cloggers are determined to do a command performance .... I had never been on a college campus before I came to Emory.

     When I arrived at Denton's Store by Fuller Bus Line, I shouldered my old army duffle bag and tucked my chicken feather pillow under my arm (another student at the bus station had advised me to buy it) and headed for the administration building. Since I had given up a good apprenticeship in the printing trade, I was quite apprehensive about my academic potential. Little did I know that I was embarking on what would be the very best years of my life."

     Even though Floyd had no prior experience on a college campus, he apparently learned quickly how to make the most of college life. The 1949 Sphinx reveals that he was vice president of the Calliopeans, a member of Blue Key, co-president of the Christian Student Movement, a selection for "Who's Who ," and Best Debater.

     His natural talent for leadership followed him into a career in public education and eventually to his present position as principal of the Rye Cove Elementary School. Most of the cloggers are current or former students from the school, ranging in age from 9 to 18. Originally the group was composed completely of elementary school students but a few of the current members are Gate City High School students who just couldn't give up their clogging after graduating from Rye Cove Elementary.

     Clogging had its origin in northern England, southwest Scotland, and south Wales as a solo dance in which the dancer wore the wooden-soled clog shoes once common in the northern industrial area of England. The dance came to America with the 18th century settlers and lived on in the mountains of North Carolina and upper East Tennessee. Most likely the pioneers added some Cherokee dance steps.

     Today's clogging is part of the revival of interest in the culture of remote Appalachian communities.

     Although clogging is very individualized, it has become stylized and certain traditional steps have to be mastered. In addition to the basic shuffle-stomp step, there are fancy steps such as "chicken scoots," "chugs," "Donkey stomps," "high and low kicks," and "heel clicks." There is a lot of foot stomping and hand clapping. Like the tap dancing it helped to foster, clogging now uses special taps to give the characteristic staccato sound.

     Some persons assume clogging to be a spontaneous, unpracticed style of dancing, but the Rye Cove performers practice long hours and even attend workshops to perfect their art. Floyd refers to his time spent in practice sessions as a labor of love, and those feelings are reciprocated by the dancers and their parents. They aren't the kind of people who lavishly display their affection, but the feelings are clear. As each dancer displays his or her special skills and senses the audience response -- while parents grin and try unsuccessfully to hide their pride -- they are appreciative that Floyd Sloan made possible the special moments.

     There have been many of those special moments: performances at the Virginia Highlands Festival and the Kingsport (TN) Bicentennial celebration, awards and standing ovations. But the biggest thrill of all came just this fall when Roy Acuff invited the group to come to the Grand Ole Opry to perform. He shared the stage with them at a political rally and startled them by extending an impromptu invitation to Nashville. They face the obstacles of scheduling a convenient date and raising travel money, but, with Floyd Sloan in the lead, it seems pretty certain that The Rye Cove Cloggers will be high-stepping on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

Floyd swaps jokes with one of the dancers just prior to the performance, and then the cloggers take off

 

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