Cripple Creek Corner: Clogging & Beyond!
It’s still early in the morning when the preparations for afternoon dance classes begin at Cripple Creek Corner. The space is alive with movement and sound: lights are being adjusted and various equipment is being moved from place to place. The studio is quickly transforming into a clogging classroom, but it could just as easily have become a space for tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, or theatre. Encircling the action are walls awash with color, lined to the gills with ribbons, medals and trophies -- paying homage to the resident clogging team’s various successes. While the studio is most known for it’s competition clogging, there are classes suited to almost any interest and skill level. You can feel right away that this is a place you’d like to stay.
Nancy and Jason Aycock are the mother and son team who own and operate Cripple Creek Corner. Their passion for creative expression is no secret, and has clearly been passed from one generation to the next. In 1982 Nancy purchased the Spanish Mission style building on the corner of Walker & Wilmington street (100 S Walker), with a dream of bringing more performance art to downtown Burgaw. A long time dancer, Nancy ‘shook things up’ when she turned what was once Pender County’s first auto dealership (Holland Ford Motor Company, 1920’s) into one of the first dance studios in the very same county. It could easily be said that Jason grew up in the studio, and is thus no stranger to the stage. Now, the duo have forged ahead together, offering quality dance classes with a generous helping of ‘family vibes’. “We try to be as professional as can be,” Nancy explains, “ ...we have teachers here that I would put up against any teacher, anywhere… but at the core of it all we like to have fun”. Their classes run parallel to the school year (from September to April), making them a no-brainer when it comes to enriching, after school activities.
“I don’t know that Cripple Creek would work everywhere else, but we work in Burgaw”, Jason muses. When Nancy fell in love with clogging shortly after opening the studio, she followed her hunch that it was a niche that would suit the town. A mother of boys, she was specifically excited to teach a style of dance that was more readily accepted as suitable for all genders. Opening the studio to clogging -- a style that was largely unknown in the area -- meant that boys started enrolling in her classes. When the troop then began performing at events such as Spring Fest, the Christmas Parade, and the Blueberry Festival, the cloggers’ infectious joy spread rapidly. Suddenly, adults were approaching Nancy and asking if they could learn. Now, the studio has a team that competes all up and down the southeastern coast -- from Florida to Northern, VA -- and even boasts some fourth generation cloggers. If someone mentions clogging in Burgaw, you can guarantee that they are talking about Cripple Creek.
Turning the 10,000 square foot building into a (sometimes lived-in) dance studio was no easy feat, however. “When you take something old and broken down, it takes something constant: constant work, constant new ideas, constant redoing, constant refinishing”, Nancy states, “...there is always something new to be done”. The face of Cripple Creek has thus changed throughout the years, whether to meet the changing needs of the space, the family, or the community they serve. Four, top-notch instructors now work alongside the Aycock’s, allowing multiple classes to be run at once. This has been vital while working with a limited, after-school time frame. Nancy has also taken a few, baby-steps back -- choosing to focus her teaching with only the youngest students -- and Jason has been able to expand his teaching radius to now include Wilmington. The studio has also produced new dance teachers throughout the years, with former students going on to teach in Clinton, Hampstead, Wilmington, and beyond. “They’re Cripple Creek grown, and then move on to spread it elsewhere”, Nancy explains delightedly, “...when someone calls up and says, I want a teacher, but I want them to be from Cripple Creek, that is very special”. Clearly, there is no shortage of artistic inspiration in this space, and so much of it is flowing directly from the Aycocks and outward into the community.
From day one, the Aycocks have worked to make Cripple Creek more than just a dance studio. In keeping with the Burgaw tradition, they have sought to be a welcoming, impactful, and inspirational space for their community. “Anytime that there is a local event or festival, you can pretty much count on Cripple Creek being involved in some way… the more that we can be a provider for Burgaw & Pender, the better”, Jason explains. Their service to their community does not end with their performances, however. The studio has worn quite a many faces over their 38 years of operation. Groups including The Pender County Courthouse, The Polywog Preschool, the Pender High School Theatre, and Pender County Arts Council have held court, classes, shows, and meetings there. Cripple Creek and the family behind it have created and sustained a space for the whole town, and it’s something you can feel as soon as you swing open their big red door.