Country Clogging: The History, Tradition, and How the Viral J Creek Cloggers Keep it Alive

by Chris Haney
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The J Creek Cloggers of Western North Carolina have become an overnight dance sensation on social media thanks to member Zeb Ross’ mesmerizing moves. The popular country clogging dance team already made a name for themselves in the region of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Yet over the last two months, they’ve been thrust into an unexpected spotlight after videos of Zeb buck dancing and shuffling garnered millions of views online.

Country clogging is a tradition that’s been passed down from generation to generation, and is a hobby that runs in the Ross family and within many others in the region. The traditional form of folk dancing is akin to square dancing when performed by teams like the J Creek Cloggers. However, Zeb has created his own style within country clogging as well.

While speaking to Outsider earlier this week, Zeb talked about his own personal style of dancing. He also opened up about the history and tradition of folk dancing in the North Carolina mountains while sharing the origins of the J Creek Cloggers.

Considering some of the earliest clogging teams in America began around the Asheville, NC area, it’s appropriate the dance team calls the region home. Zeb lives in Canton, a small mountain town of just over 4,000 residents, just 17 miles west of Asheville. Team clogging dates back at least 100 years to the 1920s when Asheville’s inaugural Mountain Dance and Folk Festival first took place.

Line dancing and square dancing might be more well-known because of popular country music and honky-tonks across the South and Southwest. However, Zeb Ross and the J Creek Cloggers are introducing country clogging, buck dancing, and shuffling to millions around the world with their viral videos.

In fact, you could argue that Zebulon Ross, Zeb for short, is the most famous country clogger in the world right now. Plus, he’s helped bring attention to a traditional art form that’s finally getting the recognition it deserves.

The History of the J Creek Cloggers

You may not recognize their names, but Zeb’s energetic dancing with the J Creek Cloggers along with his infectious smile have been plastered all over TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook the last couple of months. A chance encounter with a TikTok user who recorded their performance at a local spring festival in Bryson City, NC would change Zeb and his dance team’s lives forever.

Within a week or two of the festival attendee posting a clip of Zeb freestyle dancing during a segment of their performance they call “show off time,” his feel-good dance moves took social media by storm. You can see the team’s full performance below along with Zeb showing off around the 8:25 mark of the video.

Soon after, social media users created and edited countless spinoffs of the dance clips featuring Zeb. They’d often add different songs in the background than the usual banjo-heavy country and folk music played during the group’s performances. Clips of Zeb dancing to hip-hop, R&B, soul, rock, and metal songs are now littered across social media these days. And shockingly his dance moves seem to fit with every song from every genre of music. But while the videos have updated country clogging to the internet era, the J Creek Cloggers’ origins began decades ago.

It all started with Zeb’s grandfather who was an accomplished folk dancer himself. He passed down the traditional style of dance to his family members, including his daughter who is Zeb’s mother, Kim Ross. Kim in turn passed down the moves to her two sons who have been dancing their whole lives.

Dancing is in the Ross family’s blood, and Zeb took to it early on and never looked back. Eventually though, Kim decided to create her own dance team when her sons were teenagers, which she named after Jonathan Creek. The J Creek Cloggers started out with only a handful of members, but they now boast more than 40 dancers that practice and tour the region together.

“Growing up, my mom’s dad, my grandfather, he was a good dancer,” Zeb explained during his Outsider interview. “My mom learned from him. So whenever my mom had me, you know, we were dancing all our lives growing up… My mom decided she wanted to start her own dance team [the J Creek Cloggers] and we’ve been doing that 13, 14 years now.”

Zeb Ross Explains Country Clogging and How He Created His Own Style

Kim taught her sons the basic steps of country clogging and flatfoot dancing when they were just children. They learned “little chug moves, 1,2,3 or what not,” Zeb explained during the interview. Yet the 28-year-old from Haywood County has expanded his style to incorporate much more than just clogging.

“My mom was raised more on flatfooting,” Zeb said of his mother’s dance style. “And flatfooting it’s not a fancy dance. Typically you never raise your feet more than two inches off the ground. So it’s kind of more like a shuffle. You tend to keep your upper body stiff. If you’re in a competition and you have like a ponytail and your hair is waving back and forth, they actually deduct points for that. It’s a very strict dance.”

“The style of dance I’ve gravitated to is buck dancing,” Zeb said of his preferred style. “Typically you have more of your fancy steps there. You’ll raise your legs up more in the air. You’ll rock your ankles, you’ll have a couple of back steps, chugging. That’s what I like, so that’s what I’ve stuck with all these years.”

From there, the clogger says he made up his own moves or pulled from other people’s dances. The basis of Zeb’s style is considered clogging, and he enjoys buck dancing and shuffling the most. Yet it’s much more than that as well.

“My dance style, it is clogging,” Zeb added. “But it’s also comparable to Crip Walking, shuffling, it’s just a nice mixture of everything it seems like.”

Zeb Ross and the J Creek Cloggers Are Keeping Tradition Alive

One of the amazing benefits of going viral is that people from all around the world have been introduced to country clogging. Whether viewers realize it or not, just watching videos of Zeb and the J Creek Cloggers dance is helping bring awareness to a style of traditional folk dancing that’s been around for decades.

Fans of the dance team from different countries around the world have even reached out to the group to get more information on country clogging. Zeb’s viral videos have peaked people’s interest in parts of the world they never could’ve expected. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the viral videos may have introduced country clogging to millions of people.

“And I hope that’s the case,” Zeb said of introducing country clogging to people around the globe through his viral clips. “There’s several countries that have actually reached out. They’re curious like, ‘What is this type of dancing? We’ve never seen this before.’ Foreign countries over in Ukraine and Australia [and others] are very interested and fascinated in what we’re doing.”

Zeb spoke about how popular clogging used to be in the region, but that in recent decades it’s become a dying art form. He shared the story of a local venue near him called Stompin’ Ground in Maggie Valley, NC. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, it was known as the “Clogging Capital of the World.” As Zeb told it, “They had a dance team every night, a live band, the place was absolutely booked.”

“And now it might be open once a week. It’s not the same as what it used to be,” Zeb explained. “People just don’t dance, they lost interest. Something happened.”

However, Zeb and the other members of the J Creek Cloggers are hoping their newfound fame and popularity can help put clogging back on the map.

“So we’re hoping that, you know, us dancing actually brings clogging back and gets people interested,” Zeb said in earnest. “It’s a dying art that was what the older generation did, but today they just really don’t. If that one video resurrects this, I mean that’d be great. That would be one of the best things I could think of.”

Outsider.com