A 2017 recipient of the NEA National Heritage Fellowship and a winner of over 60 first place awards in contests across the region, Thomas Maupin is widely considered Tennessee’s most gifted practitioner of flatfoot buck dancing. Buck dancing is a percussive dance similar to, but older than, tap dance and clogging. It traces its roots to an early American melding of Scots-Irish step dance with African-American dance and rhythm.
“I grew up in a large farming family full of dancers,” Maupin says. “I can still remember the sound of my grandmother’s bare heels hitting the floor, right on top of the beat. That made a big impact on me.” He learned the basics of this improvisational dance form as a child and continued to hone his skills throughout his life. Often performed spontaneously on a wooden plank that the dancer carries to events, buck dancing is increasingly becoming supplanted by choreographed clogging. Maupin states, “Buck dance is typically done with the feet closer to the floor, focusing on sound rather than acrobatics, trying to match the note values of the music.”
Maupin believes his apprentice, Jake Fennell of Dickson, is already an outstanding and smooth young buck dancer with “his own body style.” Born into a middle Tennessee dance family, Fennell has been dancing on stage and competing in contests since age six. In 2018, he won first prize in the buck dancing age 9-15 category at the Old Time Bluegrass and Fiddler’s Jamboree in Holladay, Tennessee.