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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

Buck Dancing

by Bruce E. Baker, 2006

See also: Clogging; Step Dancing.

Buck dancing is a folk dance that originated among African Americans during the era of slavery. It was largely associated with the North Carolina Piedmont and, later, with the blues. The original buck dance, or "buck and wing," referred to a specific step performed by solo dancers, usually men; today the term encompasses a broad variety of improvisational dance steps.

In contemporary usage, "buck dancing" often refers to a variety of solo step dancing to fiddle-based music done by dancers primarily in the Southern Appalachians. Among North Carolinians, buck dancing is differentiated from clogging and flatfooting by the use of steps higher off the floor, a straight and relatively immobile torso, and emphasis on steps that put the dancer on his or her toes rather than heels.

Reference:

Mike Seeger and Ruth Pershing, Talking Feet: Buck, Flatfoot, and Tap: Solo Southern Dance of the Appalachian, Piedmont, and Blue Ridge Mountain Regions (1992).

Additional Resources:

Emmylou Harris: Buck Dancing, YouTube video, 3:28, posted by 1000Magicians, Oct 13, 2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsIBS0l7Hqg (accessed October 11, 2012).

Driggs, Jeff. "A Brief History of Clog Dancing." Doubletoe Times Magazinehttp://www.doubletoe.com/history.htm (accessed October 11, 2012).

Bradley, Sandra Lee. "The Social Context of Buck Dancing in North Carolina in the 1940s." M.S. Thesis, University of Washington. Seattle, Wash. 1978.

Image Credits:

Duke University Professor Thomas F. DeFrantz: Buck, Wing & Jig. Duke University on YouTube. http://youtu.be/A34OD4eA17o (accessed February 9, 2015).

Authors: 

Comments

Comment: 

You have it incorrectly attributed to the wrong people.
It's was called BUCK Dancing from our American Natives. American Indian Men were called Bucks, The Indian Bucks adapted this style of dancing from what they learned from those who Clogged. The Appalachian peoples called it Buck Dancing.

Comment: 

History has different interpretations. If you have reference citations that support this alternative view, please list them. It will help researchers. Thanks!

Kelly Eubank, Government & Heritage Library of the State Library of NC

Comment: 

I think it was good to show this, I am black and it is not offensive, I live in the real world and like to see the truth. the term coon, and the n word were and are words which are used by demonic people who enslaved black people. Then treated them less than human, It is also used by ignorant black people whom of which call themselves the same thing that their demon slave owner called them..why should this be hidden, I saw one of your commentators complain over this. Well if she wants to hide facts from the children then that is her prerogative.
Many black people today still buck dance for massa. they are normally self-haters.

Comment: 

I find the illustration you used to be offensive. I would like to use this information in a 3rd grade class, but I'm not going to point my children to a page that uses the pejorative term "Coon," which is as bad as the n-word in my opinion. Just because something is archived at Duke does not make it appropriate for illustrative purposes on a website such as this. Surely there was something better you could have chosen?

Comment: 

Dear Liz,

Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.  I'm sorry you found the historical illustration offensive and questionable for an elementary classroom.  We appreciate you letting us know about the mistmatch between the illustration and this entry.

I have removed the sheet music link and have replaced it with a video by Duke University professor Thomas De Frantz demonstrating historic African American social dances.  It's a short and very engaging video that illustrates the elements of the "buck" and "wing" and also has contemporary dance relevance.  

Thank you again for sharing your comment.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

When I was little, we used to dance on the tailgate of a buckboard (basically a wagon/carriage with leaf-spring suspension). The idea was to get the buckboard bouncing up and down while you shuffled your feet in time with the bounces. When performed properly, your hips and upper torso remained motionless and the arms and legs moved as if on their own volition. I've since done buck dancing on various diving boards with some success (depends on the bounce). If the dancing if performed on a floor or stage or other unyielding surface that doesn't bounce, it's usually referred to as "clogging". (see "limberjack toy" for the Appalachian toy version of a buck dancer)

Comment: 

It has nothing to do with blacks. The blacks didn't have dancing as we understand it. This style of dancing came straight over from Britain. The reason it's so prominent in Appalachia is the same reason you still find some old Shakespeare-era English idioms there. The English and Scots settlers got a bit isolated from the rest of the country. No blacks were involved, understand? As for "blues", "ragtime", etc., those are African, not American, types of music. What happened was blacks saw white people dancing and tried to copy them. But they didn't actually copy, they exaggerated everything and turned it into their "style" if you can call it that. The same type of flawed copying happened in Mexico when the mestizos there tried to play Accordion or brass instruments like the German settlers. Instead they came up with a wild and comical version of their own.

Comment: 

It is apparent that you were not listening, it was white slave masters that restricted the black slave's movements. This "INTRUSION" by white slave owners caused African slaves to alter their dances in order to accommodate the slave owner's wants and wishes. Many of the slave owners may have been Scotts Irish as well as English, nevertheless, many of Scotts Irish were also indentured servants who worked along with blacks in the fields. I don't think that it would have been a stretch for the plantation owner's to have used the indentured servant to teach the black slaves more appropriate movements according to the slave owner, therefore blacks had to adapt from their own traditional African dances to a more pleasing form for the plantation owner. If you were paying attention to the video you will see that there was no leg crossing, hopping and definitely no boy/girl dancing together. Black slaves could only perform the movements that they were allowed to perform and that was a lot of shuffling of the feet, limb movements and combinations of the two.

Comment: 

History has different interpretations. If you have reference citations that support this alternative view, please list them. It will help researchers. Thanks!

Michelle Underhill, Digital Information Management Program

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