Dixie Darlin' CloggersA southern tradition, a way of life
With the goal of nurturing and preserving a Southern Appalachian tradition, the Dixie Darlin’ Cloggers have been dancing their way into spectators’ hearts for 37 years.
Since their inception, the team has practiced on the same stage at the Waynesville Armory. Though the building and town have grown and changed around them, the Dixie Darlin’ Cloggers have faithfully met, perfecting the art of team clogging that Bascom Lamar Lunsford popularized in the region during the early 1900s.
Through the years
The Dixie Darlin’ Cloggers are one of a handful of clogging teams left in Western North Carolina. Up until the 2000s, the number of regional clogging teams was so large that even local competitions were intense and highly contested.
While they hold many regional and state titles, the Dixie Darlin’s have also won nine national championships, performed at the White House twice, represented the United States at the International Folkmoot Festival in Canada, and entertained at the Olympic Trials at North Carolina State University in the late 1980s.
“One of our highest honors was representing North Carolina at the U.S. Olympic Trials along with such folks as Charlie Daniels, Aretha Franklin, and Gladys Knight,” said Kristal Finger Cherry, an original member who attended Mars Hill College on a clogging scholarship.
“Charlie Daniels took to our kids and had a poolside party for them. He took them under his wing and really inspired them,” said Shirley Finger, longtime director.
Finger said competitions and other events allowed team members to meet people and travel the country, opportunities they may have otherwise never experienced.
To ensure the team made it to each competition together, “We sold donuts until we could afford a 1948 bus,” said Finger. “When that bus died, we got an old 4-H bus and after that, we put comfortable seats in a school activity bus. We did whatever we had to so these kids could compete and have fun.”
A beloved director
“This team has been my life,” said Finger. “I can’t dance a lick, but I love it. I can tell if it looks good and sounds right.”
Though not a dancer herself, Finger’s husband clogged with the Southern Appalachian Cloggers and her daughter began clogging soon after learning to walk.
“Shirley’s been like a best friend, a mother, a protector, and a director,” said Brian Worley, member since 1981. “She’s the glue that keeps this team together. She’ll stay up all night long writing down new routines, changing the ones we have, making sure we have enough people for a good performance, making phone calls, making arrangements. She has never wanted any kind of recognition. She wanted us to have it all.”
Finger says the “kids,” who now range in age from 38 to 80, are like family. She likes to brag about their current accomplishments such as being great parents and successful at their jobs.
“Shirley’s been the heart and the soul of the team,” said Paul Cagle, member since 1981. “If she decided to retire, that would probably be it. I can’t see anyone else coming in and taking her place. You mention Dixie Darlin’ Cloggers, you have to mention Shirley.”
Finger was inducted into America’s Clogging Hall of Fame in 1997.
Cagle, a 2012 inductee into America’s Clogging Hall of Fame, has earned the nickname of ‘Crazy Legs’ for his unique, quick-footed style.
“Both sides of my family danced all their lives. I was raised in Maggie Valley and danced at the Maggie Valley Playhouse. We’d go every Saturday. It was a family thing,” said Cagle.
Cagle’s 13-year old son is on a youth clogging team coached by Cagle and Christy Warren, another Dixie Darlin’ member.
Cagle has been dancing since he was 5 with no formal training. He rarely practices other than Monday night practices with the team but when the music starts, he says his body knows how to dance.
“My daddy danced up until he was in his 70s. My aunt danced on the Grand Ole Opry. It’s in my blood. I believe my son will be the same way.”
A part of their souls
All of the Dixie Darlin’ Cloggers have lives beyond clogging, but clogging remains an integral part of who they are.
“I still love it. It’s a stress reliever. If we go a couple of weeks without practice, I can tell I need it. It’s kind of like an addiction. I hope that it doesn’t end,” said Linda Silver, member since 1986.
Cherry who went to Tuscola and Worley who went to Pisgah were rivals only under the Friday night lights of a football game. When they partnered up to clog, they were like brother and sister.
“It’s always given me a group of friends that I could count on. It’s given me personal enjoyment and pleasure and pride,” said Worley. “I like competition so all of those years we competed, we were really a team. There was no arguing and fighting. It was a true team effort. Everyone just new that.”
The team no longer competes but continues to perform for many local and regional events including Shindig on the Green, Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Day, the Mountain State Fair, the North Carolina State Fair, Canton’s Pickin’ in the Park, and many social events such as weddings, birthday parties, and reunions. Their next performance is at Relay for Life in Fine’s Creek on May 4.
With over 365 trophies and a full agenda of performances, the Dixie Darlin’ Cloggers are not slowing down.
“There’s not another dance team that sounds like the Dixie Darlin’ Cloggers. We’ve got a unique style and sound that’s held up for years,” said Cagle. “I still do it because I love to dance. If I knew I couldn’t dance, I don’t know what I’d do.”