Bill Lynch Published

The Math Of Coffee And Clogging

Bill Lynch's dog, Penny.
My most devoted fan. My harshest critic. My dog, Penny.
Bill Lynch/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

I’ve never been good at math.

I’m not good at counting. This is a real and regular problem.

For example, every morning, I get up at five. I walk the dogs, pack for the gym and make half a pot of coffee to share with my son who gets up around 6:30.

I pour six cups of water into the reservoir for the coffeemaker.

According to the directions (as well as my particular tastes), to make six cups of coffee, I need to scoop six level spoons of ground coffee into the basket, but I’m easily distracted. The smallest of my two dogs, Penny, often wants attention – or a bite of whatever I’m putting together for my lunch.

I add to the chaos around me by trying to read the news while I’m making coffee, checking email or looking at my bank balance to decide whether today would be a good day to skip bringing my lunch and maybe invest in a hotdog.

If I have the radio on at 5:30 in the morning, six coffee spoons can sometimes be seven or maybe eight. Occasionally, it’s only five or maybe four. It can depend on the song.

Also, I can totally lose track if I suddenly remember that it’s Wednesday and I forgot to put the trash bin to the curb the night before. If I want the crows and the raccoons to stay out of my trash, I have to race out to my driveway before the garbage truck has cleared the mailbox down the road in front of the sheriff deputy’s place.

Once it gets past there, they’re not stopping for another quarter mile.

This was why counting to four was hard for me. At any given time, my mind is racing and I’m only halfway paying attention.

Tosha Smith, the dance instructor for the Lincoln County Cloggers, assured me this wasn’t that hard.

“The basic step is just kick-two-three-four-kick,” she said.

You started on your left foot with a kick and then stabilizing the foot was two. The three-four was a rock step with your right foot. Rock steps was a fancy dance term for sort of rolling up on the ball of your foot and back. Then you kicked with your right and repeated the process from right to left.

At least, that’s what I think she said.

This was foundational sort of stuff and surrounded by the Lincoln County Cloggers, I could sort of do it – by kind of counting, but also by watching everyone’s feet.

However, the more elaborate the dance became (or the louder the music, maybe), the harder it was for me to keep up. I’d kick with my left foot, skip two, move to three and then stumble over four before kicking with my left foot again, when I should’ve been kicking with my right.

It was messy and very ugly.

But the cloggers were very patient with me, if a little amused. By now, it was second nature to all of them. They made it look effortless, like breathing or just walking across a room.

I wanted to do the same thing.

But I’m not a natural dancer, but I’ve managed to muscle through a few dances here and there. I took several swing dance lessons a few years ago (I have forgotten everything), and I annually participate in Charleston Ballet’s “Nutcracker” as one of the party guests in the opening scene.

Bill Lynch
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I get to do two very short pieces with a group of around a dozen other adults – and every year, I have to relearn the steps (slowly).

Dancing has always been very aspirational for me. It’s something I feel like I’m missing out on.

When I started up with clogging, I kept thinking about the story Mason Adams did on the Friday Night Jamboree at the Floyd Country Store for Inside Appalachia (an unabashed plug for the show). I remembered the man who said he’d been dragged onto the floor to dance as a younger man and he’d fallen in love with it. When others came to the Country Store to listen to the music, he encouraged them to dance. He told them the music was good, but that dancing was a whole new world.

I wanted to understand that.  

Rehearsal with the Lincoln County Cloggers nudged me forward in that direction, maybe, but I was having a heck of time on my own. On a good night, I could muddle through the steps – as long as no music played, and nobody watched.

Including my dog, Penny.