The Machinery: Clog dancing as early noise music, 4 Dec 2009


threads of cotton on the mule

Yep, I did say clog dancing.

This dance piece uses a combination of live, solo clog dancing, video loops and audio which plays at overwhelming levels, revealing a danceform that was directly inspired by the machines of the industrial revolution. I’ll stick my neck out and say Lancashire clog is a pre-electronic forerunner of the industrially-inspired techno music of Kraftwerk and the noise music of bands such as Coil.

Lancashire clog is a deeply unfashionable dance form, often regarded as a sub-genre of Morris dancing. It’s something you’d expect to see women dancing politely, on a Sunday afternoon, in ‘traditional’ dresses and bonnets. If you’re put off by the faux nostalgia of the Sunday afternoon clog dancing brigade, see us take Lancashire clog back to its genuine roots, as we evoke the sights and sounds of the industrial cotton machinery that inspired it.

I created this piece in collaboration with performer Caroline Radcliffe who has been researching the history of Lancashire clog for many years.This event is part of discussion afternoon on movement and performance, with Andrew Lavender and Viv Gardner, at the Central School of Speech and Drama.

Some background (from Caroline and Sarah)



Lancashire clog dance evolved in the cotton mills where labourers coalesced with the means of production, devising dances that imitated the actions of the extremely loud and powerful machines around them. The majority of the workforce on the mill floor were women, chosen for what Marx describes as their ‘more pliant and docile character’ to operate the lighter and more repetitive machines. The women devised steps that mimicked and emphasised the highly rhythmic repetitions of the machines in the mill: looms, shuttles, cogs and wheels that were central to the process of industrialised cotton production. Their dance was a way of simultaneously addressing and embodying boredom: Whilst working the machinery with their hands, the female operatives moved their feet in time to the extremely loud noises of machines that would otherwise overpower and isolate them.

Steps were named after particular machine components and actions which they mimic very closely, including the pick, over-the-tops, two-up-two-down, weaving and the cog.

We devised this performance to escape the pastoralised view of Lancashire clog and recontenxtualise it as industrial dance. Here, we’re mixing a solo performance of a dance called the The Machinery,  which came from the Lancashire mills, with a collage of sound and video recorded at Quarry Bank, a working cotton mill in Styal, Cheshire. Our piece presents a live performer alongside video cut-ups that sometimes play relentlessly, other times respond to the dancer’s actions. The live dance and video images are accompanied by extremely loud, close-up audio recordings of the mill machines. We want to evoke the overwhelming power of these machines, the endurance of the dancer and the dynamic between human and machine.

Inspiration: The Machinery

drive belt

drive belt

The Machinery was originally choreographed by Lancashire clog dancer Pat Tracey, using a collection of steps passed down through her family. These steps date back to the 1820s. Tracey originally devised The Machinery as a group dance for Camden Clog but for the purposes of this project, Caroline Radcliffe has rechoreographed it for solo dancer.

The Machinery will be performed as a part of a research into performance event at Central School of Speech and Drama.

Central School of Speech and Drama
University of London
Eaton Avenue
London NW3
(nearest tube: Swiss Cottage)

17:15 – 19:15
Friday 4 December 2009
This event will be chaired by Ayse Tashkiran