Robert Lee Dotson of Sugar Grove, North Carolina, stepped off the dance floor of life on Tuesday, January 13, at the age of 91.
Robert was a farmer all his life, and he continued a tradition of old-time folk and flatfoot dancing passed down through generations. He was the source for the “Walking Step,” an intricate flatfoot dance step that members of the Green Grass Cloggers and Fiddle Puppets adapted and shared worldwide. He and his late wife Myrtle garnered many dance ribbons and trophies in their travels together, including the 1994 North Carolina Heritage Award.
Robert was born on May 13, 1923, near the banks of Cove Creek, west of Boone in Watauga County. He was the oldest of eight children born to Don and Bina Hicks Dotson. Both sides of his family were dancers, and Robert firmly believed that you were either born with it, or you didn’t have it in you. He often stated, “Some folks are dancers, some are ‘musicaners,’ and some just ain’t got it.” He belied those feelings, though – he was always encouraging everyone to get on the dance floor and “give it a try.”
Robert had been dancing all his life, and by 1978, he had won almost every flatfoot dance contest at fiddlers conventions in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee. That was the year that Robert was “discovered”—when the old-time string band the Cork Lickers invited the Green Grass Cloggers to Slagle’s Pasture in Elizabethton, Tennessee, to come check out the best dancer they had ever seen. As they say, the rest is history. There are those of us who believe that Robert’s Dotson’s “Walking Step” has had an equivalent impact on Appalachian percussive dance to that which Earl Scruggs’ three-finger banjo style has had on banjo picking, and that Doc Watson’s flatpicking has had on guitar playing. It was only in his last decade that Robert finally began to have a small inkling of the role he played in reviving and maintaining an interest in flatfoot dancing.
A Celebration of Life was held for Robert on January 17th in Boone. Old-time music was played by his friends Cecil Gurganus, Trevor McKenzie, and Gordy Hinners, with singing by Debra Jean, Randy, and Kelly Sheets. Robert’s beautiful wooden casket, handmade by Cecil, was rolled out of the service to the tune of “Golden Slippers.” In the back of his trusty old ‘98 Ford F-150, his casket was carried to his family cemetery at St. John’s church in Valle Crucis, where the Cork Lickers were waiting, playing some of Robert’s favorite dance tunes. Mark Adams led the Cork Lickers in singing “Meeting in the Air,” and Robert was laid to rest next to Myrtle. Their tombstone, which Robert had made for them, has an epitaph that reads, “We’ve Gone to Dance.”
For those of us lucky enough to have known Robert personally, you knew that he never met a stranger. He lived life to its fullest and shared his love of dancing with everyone he met. The world has lost a kind, loving, dancing man! Watch for an article chronicling Robert’s life in an upcoming issue of OTH.