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With 8 decades of experience, flatfoot dancer shares passion

August 12, 2018

CLIFFTOP, W.Va. (AP) — Flatfoot dancing is hard to define.

For Charlie Burton, who would never tell his true age, but said he was close to 80 years old, flatfoot dancing has been a point of interest for him basically his entire life.

He began dancing at nearly 2 years old.

“I remember being just a wee little thing, sitting on my dad’s lap and crying until he would bounce me up and down on his leg to the beat of the music,” Burton said. “My love for music began then; my love for dancing began shortly after.”

Burton was one of the many who attended the 29th Annual Appalachian String Band Music Festival this week at Camp Washington Carver in Clifftop. This was his 20th year attending the festival, and in doing so, he decided to spread his love for flatfoot dancing with his own correlated workshop.

Although flatfoot dancing seems to be a lifelong passion for Burton, his life has been a bundle of different ventures.

After running away from home at 13 years old because he didn’t like the place his parents were moving to, Burton traveled all the way back to Kentucky, where he was born and raised.

He then attended Marshall University and received a degree in aviation, which led to a job of building landing strips.

Now, years later, Burton lives on 315 acres of land in Pennsylvania and runs a saw mill, but flatfoot dancing is still what he called his “thing.”

As other festival attendees gathered around Burton as he sprinkled corn meal on a makeshift plywood stage, they began tying up their boots and dancing shoes, while making sure the laces were extra tight.

“The cornmeal keeps them from sliding as much. Then afterward, I brush it off and make cornbread with it,” he said with a wink.

Before beginning the actual workshop, Burton stood in the middle of the stage, dressed in a gray T-shirt with a fiddle stitched on the front of it. He pushed his glasses so they were perched properly on his nose and adjusted his trucker hat.

He began dancing lightly, as if no one were watching. Then, others began to join.

As if it were almost an unspoken request, nearly 20 to 30 people gathered around Burton, bustin’ their best moves.

“C’mon, let’s go!” Burton shouted, as everyone kept skidding their feet to the beat, hopping lightly.

The first 10 minutes or so of the workshop were just for fun, Burton said; then several instructors, including himself, began giving tips on what they know best: flatfoot dancing.

According to Burton, flatfoot dancing began 350 years ago by the Appalachian Native Americans, and it’s definitely not the same thing as clogging.

“Let’s make that clear,” he said with a laugh.

Flatfooting is typically done solo, whereas clogging is often done with groups or a partner. Cloggers often raise their feet high off the floor. Flatfooters, on the other hand, tend to keep both feet close to the floor and move them at a quick, brisk pace.

Burton stressed there is no right or wrong way to flatfoot dance, and to just dance what you feel.

“There used to not even be names to the moves, but as the style of dance began to grow, moves began to be named,” he said.

As his love for flatfoot dancing began to grow, Burton wanted to reach more people. So, he made an instructional DVD.

When he pulled out one of his DVD cases, with a simple cover on the front saying “Instructional Flatfooting with Charlie Burton,” he also pointed to the list on the cover showing all the different types of moves, including Buck Step, Indian, Touch Chug, The Double, Chicken Scratch, Walking Step, Vermont Step, The Gallop, Walk the Rail, Mouse Under the Hoof and Sidewalk.

During Burton’s workshop, the pace began picking up. Heels began stomping and toes began tapping in a quicker, more aggressive manner.

“People believe you’re either born a dancer or you’re not, but that’s not the case. These folk dances can be easily taught, and we’re just here to open up your mind,” he said. “We want to open up communication from your brain to your feet.”

For Burton, his workshop is all about helping people gain confidence and getting them to have a fun time.

“Right toe out, now left toe out and bounce,” he shouted. “Now pick them up and skid. Count with me, five, six, seven, eight....

“People came here to have fun. I can’t let them get away without dancing.”


Information from: The Register-Herald, http://www.register-herald.com