I am writing this letter in support of Pat Bedingfield and her recognition for induction into the Florida Clogging Hall of Fame.
Pat gave me my first clogging lessons around 1989. She has been a close friend and mentor, and I hope to illuminate why she deserves this award.
To fully appreciate Pat's service, you would have to know LaBelle, Florida, or imagine a small rural community that has an overall deficit of opportunities for youth and families, and the existing resources and activities were somewhat limited to church, school and sports until the 1980s. I had the opportunity to create a dance performance with video media which led to interviews with Pat and other founders of clogging in my hometown and I benefited from a broader understanding of the history of clogging in LaBelle and Pat's contributions. As a 6th generation Floridian and a 5th generation LaBellian, my appreciation of Pat and the clogging she has fostered is multifaceted—it has touched me on a personal level, and in great appreciation for what it has done for my family, my friends, and my special hometown on the Caloosahatchee River in small, rural Southwest Florida. What is most, it afforded me the opportunity to become close friends with Pat—a relationship that was nurtured as a youth through her mentorship and example, into my adulthood where I am most proud to call her a tremendous friend. I safely offer that this feeling is shared with my family and many, many friends. Pat has a significant, yet understated presence in LaBelle and also in the clogging community at large. Pat is comfortable working behind the scenes—despite her strong ability to perform, she doesn't crave the spotlight and is comfortable volunteering and giving her talents and time quietly in the background so that her students are afforded the opportunity to grow and develop from the fruits of being on the stage and working on a team, within a form of performing and creative art.
Pat's involvement began when she sought and founded a chapter of YMCA in LaBelle, motivated to bring activities to youth in LaBelle that were not offered--these included gymnastics, karate, arts and crafts, various sports, baton, dance and clogging.
Pat was not raised in LaBelle, and she came to our town with her husband who works in agriculture. She was involved with activities including sports, baton twirling and dance during her own youth and she wanted to bring those opportunities to the youth of LaBelle, where she would also raise her three children—Mimi, Melanie and Doyle. (Cloggers might not know that Pat also has remained continuously active in youth baton and sport, too!)
In the early 1980s, a clogger from Tallahassee named Bill McMahan (founder of Caloosa River Cloggers and one of the active forces in early Tallahassee clogging and square dancing, as well as Florida Clogging Council) was relocated to Fort Myers for a few years, led by his work in state law enforcement. He was active in growing clogging through outreach and lessons. This outreach was a major initiative of the earliest Florida Clogging Council, and the state's square dance community which were more closely linked at that time. They pushed for teachers to spread clogging in as many communities as possible, and plant the seeds of interest with basic knowledge and fundamentals, and then turn it over to the participants to sustain if they so desired. In this spirit, Bill and his wife drove into LaBelle from Fort Myers and taught a short series of basic clogging lessons in the school cafeteria. Advertised in the local paper, these clogging classes appealed to many in the town who were looking for wholesome, active pursuits and opportunities to be involved outside of the home or at work. Regular square dances had been popular for many years in LaBelle and clogging offered a progression into footwork, line dances and a fashionable appeal to younger dancers interested in the potential of challenging steps and skill.
After the few "teaser" and basic lessons, a group from LaBelle decided they wanted to continue involvement with clogging and offering it in our town. Bill had made sure that they had learned to read cue sheets and knew about available workshops and other resources. This second wave of cloggers, now comprising locals in LaBelle, used an old skating rink to practice. They learned from cue sheets (sometimes also through "osmosis" rather than formal teaching) and even wrote their own routines. The first group existed for only a few short years before the first members disbanded for general "life gets in the way" reasons, however they left strong interest and appreciation in our town for the dance form as they had transitioned from a lesson-based program to a small performance troupe that performed at community functions and gatherings.
Pat identified that clogging offered something special to our community. It suited our town in character and culture, including its wholesome values, community participation, bridging of generations—from the very youngest members of LaBelle to the most elder--, affordability, rural spirit, its interest in preservation of American traditions and values, its association with country and traditional music, and far beyond. Clogging offered something special that fueled civic passion in our area, and complimented programs in our community from church to 4-H and sports. Understanding its value, Pat was not going to let the clogging program discontinue in LaBelle. Pat found a few people that knew how to clog, including Debra White who had enrolled her daughter Lynnette to learn with the earliest LaBelle cloggers (and, in so doing, learned also), and also Ms. Alderman and Ginger Kisela. Pat recruited and hired these ladies as instructors and clogging started for a 3rd wave in LaBelle. Pat brought clogging into the programs of the YMCA (later the non-profit LaBelle Program Center directed by Pat and her family) alongside gymnastics, civic sports, karate, baton, swimming lessons and more.
Beyond providing a literal place for clogging to flourish, she also learned how to clog and participated actively and became a strong dancer and performer, and her three kids did also. At that period, clogging was truly a family affair and all members of the group played an active role in promoting the activities associated with the team.
Prior to Pat's involvement, the waves had lasted from 6 weeks to 4 or 5 years. The 3rd wave, led by Pat, has lasted more than 25 years—and Pat continues to promote and teach clogging in LaBelle to this day. The clogging programs that resulted in this project included the Sidekick Cloggers (in which Pat was an active dancer), the River Ramblers, the Country Rhythm Cloggers and several other groups, generations or teams created for different levels or age groups over the years.
As the Sidekick Cloggers of LaBelle, Florida, (directed by Debbie and Lynnette White) became focused on semi-professional performance opportunities and performing extensively in the region and beyond, Pat accepted the responsibility to personally teach the beginners and youth, introduce them to the skills and the performance stage, and develop them for potential recruitment into the Sidekick Cloggers, or to support them in their own independent interests or pursuits related to clogging and involvement. For instance, Pat has trained cloggers who have won pageants and talent shows, performed in church or school events, performed in various venues of various scales, went on to become teachers, and others simply have enjoyed the exercise and recreational components of weekly classes, etc.
One of my interview subjects in my video project shared that "if you have lived in LaBelle for a while, there is a very strong chance that you or one of your family members have clogged"--and you probably learned your first steps with Pat Bedingfield.
I testify that Pat has taught hundreds upon hundreds of youth and adults the art of clogging. When the Country Rhythm Cloggers performed in Dollywood in the mid-1990s, over 50 dancers took the stage, accompanied by hundreds of family members and friends that caravanned to Tennessee from the small town of LaBelle.
Despite high numbers enjoyed at times, clogging has a huge turnover rate. This is understood and actually accepted as part of life by Pat—offering a program for youth means that you have to deal with scheduling conflicts, changes in preferences and involvement, and the curiosity of youth and families that leads those involved to put clogging on hold for other endeavors. Pat's concern for and interest in youth development has always been very sincere and easily observed—and also felt—and she kept the door open and the program going for the community to come and go as they needed to. She is comparable to a mom that has always kept food on the table for her wandering children—clogging has always been in LaBelle for anyone and everyone and any level of interest, fickle or fully committed. She has demonstrated remarkable stamina and despite the turn over, clogging in LaBelle never stopped or skipped a beat. She has continued teaching non-stop, through changes in venue, hundred of dancers coming and going, and all other challenges that were met by Pat with grace, determination, and contagious, if not also relentless, optimism.
Consistently, everyone involved has a deep appreciation for clogging and a friendship with Pat. Some of those cloggers who didn't stick with the program now raise their children in LaBelle, and their 2nd and even 3rd generation enrollment in clogging is testament to the value that is appreciated and known. The veteran cloggers come to shows, and support fundraisers for the current cloggers. It is a very important aspect of the community fabric in LaBelle—an element of great pride for a community that is often self conscious in comparison to the quickly-changing landscapes of south Florida and nearby urban areas. LaBellians love their Swamp Cabbage, which they celebrate in their annual Swamp Cabbage Festival, and they love their clogging—and they love Pat Bedingfield and the warm family she built with her husband Eldridge, and her many adopted family members among her cloggers and neighbors.
Pat has been involved in Florida Clogging Council and supports workshops in Florida and beyond. Those who pay careful attention will know that she always brings a van full of youth with her. This extra effort has allowed many kids to stay involved regardless of income level or the availability of parents or family members to travel or support the development of their children's chosen activity. She never lets students go without—she has self-funded clogging shoes, costumes, travel expenses, and more to allow students to remain involved that would otherwise not be able to support the endeavor. Pat has hosted a workshop in LaBelle for many years as a fundraiser for the Country Rhythm Cloggers. The workshop supports travel and performance expenses for the kids and families—perhaps this is under appreciated or under observed as we all get swept away in the mere excitement of dancing all weekend in a sleepy little town with our clogging family every year. The proceeds from entrance fees, concessions, syllabus sales, ads, and raffles all support the youth directly and exclusively.
Prior to the Country Rhythm Clogging Workshop, Pat was an important supporter and "worker bee" for the Sidekick Clogging Workshop in LaBelle. The history of clogging workshops in LaBelle have demonstrated the form's broader importance to the LaBelle community as it is, in fact, one of very few engines for tourism and overnight visitor stay in LaBelle aside from our winter guests and the Swamp Cabbage Festival in February. Other tourism activity is limited to passers-by along highway 80 traveling from Fort Myers to and from Palm Beach County. Visitors to the annual workshop stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and then go to the civic center where they clog next to the children of the hotel and wait staff that they have supported financially through their business. This is very important to a small rural town, and perhaps is not fully appreciated by cloggers from larger urban areas. The businesses look forward to the clogging weekend and the extra business it brings to town. Pat's activity has a very real impact on LaBelle—not only on the availability of arts and creative pursuits, but also in economic stimulus and very real support of families.
But Pat is most proud of the transformation that is allowed for youth that participate in programs like clogging. She knows that these programs lead to self confidence, avoidance of vice and destruction, an ability to leverage exercise and recreation to combat health adversity throughout all stages of life, a greater sense of belonging to a community and the confidence that comes with knowing you have friends to turn to when needed. Under Pat's selfless leadership, clogging is truly a transformational activity. Any youth that has been involved in Pat's program will never be the same. (I should also note as a compliment to Pat, I have admiration for the architectural integrity of LaBelle's buildings, including schools and grocery stores that support the hundreds of citizens that have "caught the fever" and clog up and down the aisles and floors.)
Contributing to my personal involvement with clogging, Pat was the major force encouraging my first choreography projects, my first solo performances and duets, my first teaches at workshops (she nominated me as the youth teacher at the Daytona Workshop which was my first workshop teach outside of LaBelle), she hired me as a clogging instructor for beginners which was my first endeavor teaching the form, and she encouraged me to form later teams, travel the world (quite literally) and follow my path led by the noisy, "American Racket" we call clogging. Her encouragement has been bestowed on hundreds, and among those that have taught clogging include me, Amy Yeomans, Jesse and Brittany Whitman, Lynnette and Debra White, Misha and Amber Farris—and I have no doubt that there will be many youth to follow that will be afforded the same opportunities and encouragement.
Pat is a catalyst for clogging, and the benefits from her involvement are warmly felt and deeply appreciated in LaBelle and also throughout Florida. She is a rare individual that has remained focused on youth involvement and opportunity, and insuring clogging is experienced by kids—a mighty wise investment for the future of clogging and children that grow into well-rounded adults, having gained confidence, perspective and citizenship through being part of something larger than themselves--a clogging team.
There isn't a person in LaBelle that would exchange a single skuff mark on their kitchen floor for the myriad gifts Pat and clogging have granted for their children, their neighbors and their families.
I already acknowledge Pat as having a major impact on my life. I am asking you to consider recognizing her contributions, only briefly described herein, for the high honor of Florida Clogging Hall of Fame. I welcome any opportunity to communicate the appreciation Pat deserves and remind her of the hundreds of lives she has impacted through her selfless service, leadership and love of youth and community.
With the greatest and most sincere appreciation for Pat,