For nearly 32 years a hidden gem in Plant City has been drawing participants from across the state as it quietly and consistently brought home hundreds of awards and recognition.
Clogging Connection was started in August 1986 by Deborah Conn and her son Jamie Conn. As the years passed several generations of the Conns have practiced their moves on the studio floor along with talented dancers from across the state of Florida.
“We call ourselves the ‘Island of Misfit Toys,’” Jamie Conn, director of Clogging Connection, said. “Anyone is welcome to join us. We have fun and that’s what I’ve always told them, if you are passionate and having a good time you will be successful. If you’re not enjoying it, don’t do it.”
The competition team is free for anyone to join, all they need to do is pay for the costume and competition fees. It has built its foundation on being the place to call home for those who otherwise may never have found their niche. All ages can participate and currently there are approximately 30 team members ranging from age 4 years old to 47 years old.
Those who wish to learn more about clogging can pay for classes via the Clogging Connection studio, 507 N.Wheeler Street.
The team meets every other Sunday afternoon and several of its current members drive from Gainesville, Sarasota and Riverview to participate. Whether they are an adult that has recently returned to the craft or a child just learning how to compete as a team, one theme remained consistent throughout the group: Clogging Connection cares about its dancers.
“I like that we’re just a big family,” Summer Hanson, a 10-year-old who has been clogging for six years, said. “We travel all over together. A few of us actually even had a sleepover last night.”
The Conns led the team to victory in February at the 11th Florida Clogging Festival. In just a few weeks they will be participating in the Dollywood Clogging Classic held in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Kaley Conn, director and choreographer, has been clogging “pretty much since birth.” The daughter of Becky Conn and niece of Jamie Conn, she quickly became one of the best cloggers in the state and by 13 she was teaching her own students.
Currently, Kaley Conn is the reigning Miss Southeastern Clogger and Summer Hanson is the Junior Miss Southeastern Clogger.
Often, if team members see someone struggling to grasp a step or a routine they will pull them aside and work with them one on one to help them get in sync with the rest of the group. The skill levels range from amateurs to the experts and they said regardless of talent everyone is welcome to join the team.
“When you love your teammates you want to do good and not let them down,” Kaley Conn said. “We’re all a family here and we support each other and help each other any way we can. That translates during competitions because we really are giving it everything we can.”
Amber Phillips began dancing with Clogging Connection when she was 7 years old. When she went to Plant City High School she became involved with several other groups like All Star cheerleading and had to leave clogging. Now 20 years old she is back clogging with the people she holds close to her heart.
“I know everyone is saying this but being a part of a family like this really helps us all perform better,” Phillips said. “When people normally hear about clogging they don’t recognize what it really is. It’s not wooden shoes, it’s a really unique form of dance. I love being a part of it.”