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Footworks

November 19, 1997

Footworks

By KATE COLEMAN

Staff Writer

Eileen Carson believes in the power of live performance. She believes so strongly, she says she sometimes wants to tell people to blow up their televisions.

Carson is artistic director and founder of Footworks, a percussive dance ensemble that will perform at Hagerstown Junior College Saturday night.

Percussive dance is what happens when the dancer is part of the music, when the dancer is being a really good drummer, Carson explains.

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Footworks' dancing is grounded in the traditions of Appalachian clogging and "flatfooting," the North Carolina dance form Carson describes as an earlier form of modern clogging. The company has taken the many traditions of American percussive dance - Scottish, Irish, English, Native American and African - and integrated them with original choreography.

Footworks performs to live music - always and without exception, Carson says.

Musicians in the group include fiddler Jon Glik, guitarist Robin Bullock, who has performed with the acoustic group Helicon, and musical director Mark Schatz who played with the Tony Rice Unit, a pioneering bluegrass band.

The music is the reason, the foundation for the dance traditions that inspire Footworks. They originated - not to be performed for an audience - but as the spontaneous reaction to extremely joyous music, Carson says.

People would gather at someone's house to play their tunes on fiddle, banjo and guitar. Carson describes the dancing that resulted as unaffected, sincere and connected to the music.

"It always has spoken to me," she says.

Carson says her mother was a Depression era "hillbilly."

She and Carson's father had come to Washington, D.C., to find jobs. Her parents were able to provide opportunities for Carson. Her mom took her to see musicals and other shows, she says.

Carson took ballet and tap dancing lessons.

"I was going to be a dancer no matter what," she says.

Carson came back to her family's musical heritage at a bluegrass festival.

She became a member of Green Grass Cloggers, a group formed in 1971. The troupe's love of traditional music and dance took it to its sources in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.

The group is noted for taking traditional Appalachian clogging from competion to the performance stage. In 1979, three of its members, including Carson, formed The Fiddle Puppet Dancers. The ensemble changed its name to Footworks in 1994.

Also in 1994 Carson received a two-year National Endowment for the Arts Choreography Fellowship. Without that seed money, it would have been impossible for her to do her "field research" or for Footworks to continue, she says.

Today, NEA has no formal development program in choreography, Carson notes.

Footworks has performed at carnivals, festivals, in classrooms and in uptown venues such as The Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center.

The group was part of a Smithsonian American Music Festival in Japan, and for six weeks in 1996, Footworks dancers performed as guest artists in the London run of "Riverdance."

The company sold out its own five-week tour of the United Kingdom a few weeks later.

The popularity of "Riverdance" has brought a greater awareness and more respect to percussive dance, Carson says. The form has experienced what tap dancing went through many years ago when it was considered just a novelty, Carson says.

Despite her desire to get people out of their houses and into a live audience, she admits that television has helped to increase awareness.

Carson is founder, artistic director and spokesperson for the troupe, but she says Footworks and its foundations are not about soloists.

"It's about being with other people," she says.

That's part of what makes live performance so unique. A sense of community is created - performers and audience together.

Tickets

Mountain Green Concerts will present Footworks at 8 p.m. in Kepler Theater on the campus of Hagerstown Junior College on Robinwood Drive in Hagerstown.

Tickets are $15, reserved. "Pick four" tickets also are available.

For information, call 301-790-2800, extension 309.

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