Floating Dancer transcript

Floating Dancer transcript

Floating Dancer, Transcription

Edited by Beverly B. Patterson


Pilcrow, Possum & Persimmon Film Productions

(Interior shot: Robert in his chair at the kitchen table and his house near Sugar Grove, NC, on October 12, 2014. The camera’s perspective is the same as a visitor sitting with him at the table while he occasionally looks out at the road to see who may be passing by or to see farther out across the road into the bottomland where Cove Creek runs.)

ROBERT: I walked out there and done my thing and walked off the floor with it. What they used to call me was that floating dancer. That’s what they used to call me: the floating dancer. Yeah.

(Interior shot: Flatfooters and musicians at a celebration “fun*raiser” for Robert on October 12, 2014, at Cove Creek School in Sugar Grove, N.C.)

Pilcrow, Possum & Persimmon

Floating Dancer
The Story of Robert Dotson,
the Walking Step,
and the Green Grass Cloggers

RODNEY (voiceover): The night that we came down to Robert’s for his dance party—at that time, the Green Grass Cloggers had pretty much been— Our whole basis for our dancing was what we called the Basic Step. And it was very much a down-and-up motion—bending your knees, going down and up to the music. And right from the get-go we could tell Robert was doing something a little bit different. He actually was starting off at a place and would lift up and pull his foot back, instead of go down and push his foot out as in a shuffle.

(Exterior shot: Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance, Silk Hope, NC; April 18, 2015.)

AMY: We, um, saw this particular step that Robert was doing, and we wanted to learn it, and bring incorporate it. You know— (she demonstrates)
Caption: Amy Fenton-Shine, Green Grass Cloggers, & Fiddle Puppet


AMY:—that step: The Walking Step.

LEANNE: Let me bend the camera down. Can you do that again?

AMY: In my rubbers! (laughing)

LEANNE: And what did you think was really special about him and the way he danced?

AMY: Oh, his joy, and his love of dance, and his precision with this. You know, he just was a character and really beautiful. Beautiful.

(Interior shot: Robert’s kitchen table)

Caption: Robert Dotson, Friend & Mentor of the Green Grass Cloggers

ROBERT: The main thing about wanting to dance is to want to dance. You got to want to dance before you can dance. Just like you want to play a fiddle, or your guitar or something—you got to want to do it before you can do it. And when you go back home, don’t turn the television on and not—and forget about your dancing, your lessons you just took. Go in there and turn you a little music on and dance a little more, dance a little bit. Do that every day or every night, and the first thing you know, you can walk out on the floor with the best of them and not be—not be ashamed to walk out on the floor.

(Interior shot: Cove Creek School; Robert and other dancers flatfooting.)

RODNEY: We’re here for a very special day, a celebration of my good buddy Robert Dotson, who lives right up the road, celebrating his 91st year.

Audio: “Ragtime Annie” played by Cecil Gurganus (fiddle) and Phil Jamison (banjo)

Exterior shot: Sign for Howard Edmisten Road, where Robert lived.

Caption: Robert’s Road, Sugar Grove, N.C.

Exterior shot: Robert’s dance cabin across the road from his house, where the Green Grass Cloggers attended the party and first observed his dancing.

Caption: Robert’s Dance Barn

(Exterior shot: Front porch at Robert’s house, Sugar Grove, N.C. The scenic view behind Rodney and Robert is much of what Robert could see from his kitchen window.)

Caption: Rodney Sutton, Green Grass Cloggers & Fiddle Puppets

RODNEY: The Corklickers brought the Green Grass Cloggers here to Robert and Myrtle’s house, right across the road over there for one of his little dance parties. That’s 1978, won’t it?

ROBERT: Yes, sir.

(Interior shot: Robert’s kitchen table)

ROBERT: I was a-dancing down there in the cabin a little at that time. And they—I don’t know who called, Rodney or who—said, “Robert, we’ve heard about you, about your dancing.” They told me who told them about it. They said, “Could we come to your house?” And I said, “Yeah you can come to my house.” I believe they said there was about—I ain’t going to say definite—it was about six or eight of ’em. I know there was that many, if not more. Well, I was down there in the cabin. God, I come to the house, and I said, “Myrtle, we’re in trouble.” She said, “What have you done now?” I said, “I don’t know.” I said, “There’s a bunch of (4:35-4:40 Silent cutaway shot: Green Grass Cloggers at the Kentucky Fried Chicken Bluegrass Festival, Louisville, KY, 1978; Caption: Green Grass Cloggers) teenagers [that] called and wanted to come here to— (4:41 Interior shot: back to Robert at kitchen table) They’d heard about our dancing and wanted to come here for a day or so, and I said, ‘Yes,’ they could come.” And I said, “Myrtle, they may kill us. (4:51-4:59 Silent cutaway shot) We don’t know who they are, and I don’t know them, and they don’t know me.” I said, “Oh, Hell, we’re in trouble.” But you know what? Whenever they came down here, they were so nice and so good. And I just fell in love with ’em, and I’ve been in love with ’em ever since, and that’s all I can say. It couldn’t have been any better.

(Exterior shot: Front porch at Robert’s house, Sugar Grove, N.C.)

RODNEY: The night that we came down to Robert’s for his dance party—at that time, the Green Grass Cloggers had pretty much been— Our whole basis for our dancing was what we called the Basic Step. [5:34-5:44 silent cutaway shot: Green Grass Cloggers at Shakori/Hoppin’ John] And it was very much a down-and-up motion: bending your knees going down and up to the music. And right from the get-go, we could tell Robert was doing something a little bit different. (5:45 return to exterior porch) He actually was starting off at a place and would lift up and pull his foot back, instead of go down and push his foot out as in a shuffle. And so, that was pretty obvious—just watching how he’d hold his hands. He’s always got his hands going up like this when he’s dancing in this very up motion.

(Cutaway shot with faint audio: Robert dancing to “Ragtime Annie” at Appalachian State University)

ROBERT: Yeah, keeping time with ’em.

RODNEY: Keeping time—


RODNEY:—with his hands. [6:10--Return to exterior shot: front porch at Robert’s house.]
But it was a sound that he was making that we could not figure out where it was coming from, and so that’s why we were laying down on the floor. [6:18-6:25 cutaway shot to Rodney’s feet demonstrating the Walking Step and variations with audible rhythms as the voiceover continues] It’s such a subtle sound. It’s such an important sound to the Walking Step that we couldn’t see it. [6:26 return to exterior shot: front porch at Robert’s house] It’s still really hard to see. If you do the Walking Step up-tempo, people still have a hard time figuring out where that sound is, and it’s the sound that happens right before you put your weight down to change from one side to the other. And it’s what I call a toe drop. It’s like a very quick little [6:45-6:51 silent cutaway shot to Rodney’s feet demonstrating the toe drop and then the whole Walking Step] tap with your toe, right before you put your foot down flat on the ground or floor, and that little toe drop [6:52 return to exterior shot: front porch] was what was throwing us off. And then he sneaks in this little heel sound on the other side in between shifting his weight again. So, there’s two very, very, um, hard-to-distinguish where those sounds are happening because—danced up-tempo to a regular fiddle tune—it’s all happening so quick, it’s really hard to see. And so, we, it was really—I always give credit to Amy and Eileen [7:20-7:25 silent cutaway shot: Eileen Carson Shatz, Rodney Sutton, and Amy Fenton-Shine freestyling at Shakori Hills 2015 as part of the Fiddle Puppets/Footworks 35th anniversary season] for being the ones to be able to figure it out. And, and the other thing we figured out that night was the step the way Robert does it is [7:26 return to exterior shot: front porch] a step that crosses the phrasing of the music. Now, if he stays on it real regular and rock solid like he always did, it’ll come back around. It’s not like he’s getting off beat, but the step is not as even. [7:40-7:52 silent cutaway shot to feet demonstrating the Green Grass Clogger Basic Step at the beginning of the Ladies Routine at Shakori Hills] We were so used to hearing all the Green Grass Cloggers’ basic steps—four basic steps fit to, you know, 16 measures of the tune, and any accent we did fit exactly that way. [7:53 return to exterior shot: front porch] But Robert’s Walking Step, if he repeated it over and over, would cross the phrasing from like the A part to the B part of the music. But, if he stayed with it—and if, if you do it or anybody does it and sticks with it—it will come back to the top of the music every, every so many times through.

(Exterior shot: Side porch at Robert’s house with pasture and barn for Robert’s horses, Dan and Toby.)

RODNEY (talking while demonstrating dance): Here’s the best I can do Robert’s step.

(Rodney dancing without talking.)

And it’s really hard to do for me because it’s so one-sided. So, he’s shuffling with this foot [right foot] and then he pulls back [left foot]. And that toe drop right there [right foot]—that touch down—is the part we could not figure out where it was coming from. So, as he puts his weight down—right before he puts it down—he drops his toe. And it’s a very subtle little sound. And what Amy and Eileen were able to do was to take Robert’s step and do what he was doing on his left side and add that to the right side. Even the step out. And, so, the reason we call it the Walking Step is because you’re just walking [9:06 Rodney begins demonstrating the step as he’s talking]—stepping every time on the beat of the music. And then, every time you put your foot down, the simplest version of it is—pull back. You can hear my toe hit as it comes backwards.

ROBERT: Yeah. Walkin’ back.

RODNEY: And the part that we had such a hard time seeing was this toe drop.

ROBERT: Now you’re getting it right. That’s what it’s supposed to be.

RODNEY: And then, the fourth sound that comes in is really the third sound of the step, and he puts his heel in on the other side just before you pull your foot back, and it sounds like this. (9:44-9:54 dancing without talking) And you could hear when I would just leave it out sometimes. So, the—all the four sounds are touch step [right foot], and then as you pull this foot [right foot] back this heel [left heel] comes up. So, it’s touch-down-heel-back, touch-down-heel-back, touch-down-heel-pull, touch-down-heel-pull. (10:12-10:23 Rodney continues dancing without talking.)

ROBERT: Then you get the rhythm in it. Oh, you got it, Rodney.


RODNEY: And then if you dance as long as Robert did, then you can do it nice and consistently on both sides. And that’s the challenge to this step—is to be able to do it consistent and in time with the music. And it’s better to do it slow—

ROBERT: Right.

RODNEY:—and in time than to try to go fast and make it where you can’t tell what you’re doing.

(Exterior shot: Front porch at Robert’s house.)

RODNEY: They [Green Grass Cloggers] took your Walking Step, like the Fiddle Puppets did, and started sharing it. At every festival we’d go to, when we would do clogging workshops, not only were we teaching the Green Grass Clogger Basic Step, but we started adding in—especially if it was about flatfooting, um, we would add Robert’s step for more advanced dancers. That’s a tricky step. It’s still hard to teach. It’s not— I can teach—

(Silent cutaway to Rodney’s workshop at the Appalachian State University Fiddler’s Convention)

ROBERT: (interjecting) No, it’s not easy to teach. No. (11:21, Return to exterior shot: Front porch.) I know it’s pretty complicated for me to get up there and get it right.


RODNEY: And there’s still a lot of people that in those early days learned it as the Tennessee Walking Step, but I’ve been really on this campaign to make sure Robert gets credit for it because he is the source of it, and there’s no way anybody can dispute that. Robert’s contribution to percussive Appalachian step dancing, with his Walking Step, probably had just as big of an influence on how young people approach rhythm making as Earl Scruggs. (12:01-12:07, cutaway shot with faint audio: Banjo demonstration by Roger Rulifson, a Green Grass Clogger) three-finger banjo style had on banjo playing and as how Doc Watson’s flatpicking style had on guitar playing. (12:11-12:26 cutaway shot with faint audio: Guitar demonstration by Roger Rulifson). To me, they’re equivalent. And then, the interesting thing is, is both Robert— He lives on the west side of Boone, and Doc lived on about the opposite mileage on the other side of Boone. (12:27 return to exterior shot: Front porch.) And Earl Scruggs wasn’t too far from here, where he was born.

ROBERT: No. (agreeing with Rodney)

RODNEY: So, all three of them having such a big impact on this kind of traditional music and dance, being from the same area, has always kind of struck me as just being pretty unique.

ROBERT: If you gonna get up for a bunch of kids or somebody trying to show ’em what you gonna do, give it, do it, give it the best shot you got. So— They’re gonna learn from that, what you’re gonna do right there.

(cutaway to exterior shot: Side porch at Robert’s house; Robert dancing during his 91st birthday gathering on May 13, 2014; musicians left to right: Gordy Hinners (momentarily off camera), Rebecca Keeter, Cecil Gurganus, Trevor McKenzie, Leila Weinstein, Adam Jarrell. Earlier in the day, he had been nailing down tin on top of his barn. “You can’t let age sit next to you,” he said (off-camera) that afternoon, “You’re as old as you act.”)

My step, the way I do flatfooting, it’s— If I get out there and do it, I, I have to get my act together to get it—get in time, get it, get it going. I can tell when I, when I ain’t up to par on it when I walk out on the floor. I can tell the minute I walk out. And when I get out and get a good tune and get them feet down on the floor and get ’em to talking, man, it just makes you feel good.

RODNEY: It does, don’t it Robert?

ROBERT: Yeah, boy. You walk off the floor with a good feeling. Well, you can tell by the crowd what you have while you’re doing what you’re doing. (Cheering from people off-camera at the party on the porch.)

RODNEY (from off-camera at the birthday gathering): Happy Birthday, Robert!

(Interior shot: Kitchen table at Robert’s house.)

ROBERT: A tune that’s got rhythm in it hits you better than one that ain’t. Now, you know that. And you can pretty well tell before you walk out on the floor if you can get in time with that, that tune, or you can’t. It just, just, it’ll make chill bumps come over you. I’ve had chill bumps come all over me when a tune would hit me—get the cold chills. (chuckling) I guess I’m a little different than anybody else. I don’t know. Well, I’m a-done something that somebody likes. ’Cause there’s living proof right here now. They’re liking my step. I can’t get my feet to get— (tapping) You got to get one (tapping his fingers on table) and one doing [tapping fingers from other hand on table] and have the right beat in both of them. And get ’em, get ’em together. (He continues tapping his fingers, then pauses and adjusts the rhythm of his finger tapping). And when the music is changing, change with the music. You can tell, when they’re playing a tune, if it hits you or not before you get on that floor. You’ll know it. You’ll feel like that “I can walk out there and just tear that tune up, buddy, I know. Tear it up.” I like dancing when I’m— You got to hang loose in your— You got to relax in your dancing. If you do that, it just makes you feel better. You think, “Well, I’ve accomplished a little something today. I believe I done a little better today than I did yesterday. I’m gonna try to do better tomorrow.” And another thing. Now, I’m gonna tell you this. If you’ve got— If you’re teaching dancing, and you see some folks out there on the floor with just any kind of a shoe on, you need to call their attention. And say, “Listen.” Tell ’em to get ’em a lighter shoe and a slicker bottom. I really— You know yourself you can’t get your feet to go with a rough bottom shoe on. (He taps his feet on the floor under the table.) You get it up here (he points to his head), but you can’t get your feet to go with it. You don’t have to buy a hundred-dollar pair of shoes. You could go out there and get you a pair with a slick sole on ’em, and uh, and you—and if they got a good sound to ’em, you know like that.

(Exterior shot: Front porch at Robert’s house.)

RODNEY: Well, Robert, you’ve always been good about going and getting people and pulling ’em out on the floor and get ‘em to try it.

ROBERT: Yes, sir, I’ve always been.

RODNEY:—always been encouraging—

ROBERT: Always.

RODNEY:—of new people—


RODNEY: —to come try a little flatfooting.

ROBERT: I’ve, I’ve put a-many a person on the dance floor who’s sitting on the bench and wouldn’t get up.

(Exterior shot: Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance, April 2015)

AMY: Just—It’s just—it’s just like a giving. It’s a— And joy. Do it in the spirit of joy and giving to – you know, and just, uh— Beauty.

(Interior shot: Cove Creek School)

LEANNE (off-camera): So, Robert—


LEANNE: Are you having a good time today?

ROBERT: I always have a good time. That’s what it’s all about. If you ain’t gonna have a good time, just stay at home if you don’t enjoy it. It’s made for you to enjoy it. Are you?



GLADYS (one of Robert’s younger sisters): She’s recording you.


GLADYS: She’s recording you.

(Robert greeting Cork Lickers band members and friends: Mark Adams with banjo, Rob Nicar shaking Robert’s hand and speaking, Rick Palmer with fiddle.)

ROBERT: That’s a great tune.

ROB NICAR: Hey, Robert. Great to see ya.

(Green Grass Cloggers dancing to music by the Corklickers and friends.)

GGCs dancing in this scene:
Holly Baumgartner (red dress)
Linda Block (purple dress)
Allison Garren (teal green dress)
Gordy Hinners (shirt with red yoke)
Phil Jamison (shirt with green yoke)
Suzannah Park (orange dress)
Leanne E. Smith (turquoise dress)
Rodney Sutton (shirt with green possum print yoke and black-and-white shoes)

Corklickers and friends playing in this scene (left to right):
Ben Moore (guitar)
Gary “Smooth” Silverstein (mandolin)
Gil Adams (fiddle)
David Burns (fiddle)
Rob Nicar (fiddle)
Rick Palmer (fiddle)
Rick Moore (bass)
Mark Adams (banjo)

(Big-circle square dance to the tune “June Apple” with Rodney Sutton calling.)

(Interior shot: Cover Creek School, Robert at microphone.)

ROBERT: So, thank you all for the turnout.

(Cheering and applause.)

Memorial screen
Robert sitting at the kitchen table looking out the window.
Robert Dotson
May 13, 1923 – January 13, 2015

(Rolling over clip of Robert and Rodney dancing at Appalachian State University in 2013 to “Sally Ann” played by Cecil Gurganus on fiddle and Phil Jamison on banjo.):

directed by
Leanne E. Smith

produced by
Leanne E. Smith
M. Chad Smith

edited by
M. Chad Smith
Leanne E. Smith

directors of photography
Leanne E. Smith
M. Chad Smith

archival photography courtesy of
Green Grass Cloggers

filmed on location at
Robert’s Kitchen & Porch
Howard Edmisten Road
Sugar Grove, North Carolina
May 2014 & October 2014

Cove Creek School
Sugar Grove, North Carolina
October 2014

filmed on location at
Shakori Hills Festival of Music & Dance
Silk Hope, North Carolina
October 2012, 2013 & April 2015

Appalachian State University
Boone, North Carolina
March 2013 & February 2015

Corklickers & Friends
Gil Adams
Mark Adams
David Burns
Ben Moore
Rick Moore
Rob Nicar
Rick Palmer
Gary “Smooth” Silverstein

New Southern Ramblers
John Herrmann
Gordy Hinners
Phil Jamison

Banjo & Guitar Pickin’
Roger Rulifson

Robert’s Porch on 91st Birthday
Cecil Gurganus
Adam Jarrell
Rebecca Keeter
Trevor McKenzie
Leila Weinstein

Appalachian State University|
Cecil Gurganus
Phil Jamison

(Robert ends his dancing with his characteristic gestures: holding his hand to his chest and tipping his hat.)


The Story of Robert Dotson, the Walking Step,
and the Green Grass Cloggers
© 2016

Pilcrow, Possum & Persimmon
Film Productions

Exterior shot: front porch at Robert’s house with Rodney and Robert

ROBERT: Get them feet to talkin’...
(fade to black)