Dudley Culp first saw clogging in spring 1971 at the Old Time Fiddlers Convention in Union Grove, NC. When he saw the Smoky Mountain Cloggers perform, he knew he wanted to learn to clog. Evelyn Smith Farmer of Fries, VA, showed him a basic step that he took back to friends in Greenville, NC, hoping to start a team. Dudley and Toni Jordan (now Williams) took a square dance class at East Carolina University and later learned more figures from Betty Casey, an internationally experienced square dance caller then living in Greenville. At the 1971 Autumn Square-Up at Fiddler’s Grove, festival organizers Harper and Wansie Van Hoy encouraged Dudley’s hopes for a clogging team. In December 1971, with the local Flatland Family Band, the new dance group gave its first performance under the name Toni suggested—Green Grass Cloggers, a reference to Greenville, bluegrass, and the counterculture.
With their energetic dance style and somewhat informal costumes—calico dresses for the ladies and jeans and western work shirts with calico accents for the gents—the GGCs transferred their offstage personalities to their performances so that they were a team, yet all still individuals. In 1972, the hippie cloggers, many wearing thrift store shoes, debuted at Union Grove on April Fools’ Day, and they later won ’72 and ’74 World Championship titles at the Square-Up against polished teams. After they all met in 1973, flatfooter Willard Watson from Deep Gap, NC, and fiddler Tommy Jarrell from near Mt. Airy, NC, were attracted to the GGCs’ youthful energy and said the early GGCs’ spirit on and off stage reminded them of the way dancing used to be, before competitions so heavily influenced clogging. The GGCs had used square dance figures they knew and created steps as they needed and wanted to—and that improvisation itself makes what they were doing a folk art form. They felt validated in knowing that what they’d created, while trying to be different from the norm, was actually recapturing a more earthy spirit of the dance.
To follow the increasing performance invitations, in 1977, some of the GGCs formed a Road Team of full-time dancers for the circuit of large U.S. and Canadian folk festivals, with some trips overseas. Those who couldn’t travel became the Home Team. Travels led them to a new mentor—Robert Dotson of Sugar Grove, NC—whose Walking Step helped the GGCs enhance their footwork. Both the Home and Road groups were based in Greenville until the Road Team relocated to Asheville, NC, in 1980. That group traveled internationally to such places as South America and Asia, released the album Through the Ears marking the GGC fifteenth anniversary in 1986, disbanded soon afterwards, and later re-formed in Asheville to do occasional performances. Meanwhile, the Home Team created new routines in the eighties, and in the nineties adapted the earlier choreography for a smaller membership.
While both the eastern and western groups of GGCs kept dancing the same routines, they didn’t have much interaction outside of reunions until the early 2000s when several dancers from the early-1970s GGCs moved to the Asheville area and began dancing again. Their return led to a large thirty-fifth anniversary reunion in 2006. Since then, the eastern and western groups have danced together at more festivals so the routines can remain similar. The Green Grass style has maintained partner-based choreography and prioritized live music. The traveling and teaching that the group did in the seventies and eighties had such a wide influence that much of the clogging around the world that isn’t the competition precision style can be traced back to the Green Grass Cloggers through the spin-off groups that started among people who saw the cloggers and attended workshops at festivals.
Recent recognitions for the Green Grass Cloggers include Western Carolina University’s 2008 Mountain Heritage Award, the Charlotte Folk Society’s 2011 Folk Heritage Award, and a 2012 Community Traditions Award from the North Carolina Folklore Society. During the fortieth anniversary tour in 2011—named the Year of the Possum as a reference to the group’s 1978 pet possum Alfred—the GGCs grew to include three squares of dancers on stage together at venues such as Fiddler’s Grove, Greenville’s Sunday in the Park, Asheville’s Shindig on the Green, and the official reunion at the Hoppin’ John Old-Time and Bluegrass Fiddlers’ Convention at Shakori Hills. The November 2011 homecoming celebration at East Carolina University’s Wright Auditorium marked an onstage first for the group: they performed the earliest Green Grass routine with four squares of dancers. Presently, out of about one hundred seventy members throughout the group’s history, the combined eastern and western rosters include nearly forty active dancers who joined during each of the four decades.