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Blacktip Island Divemasters Launch Underwater Clogging Course

The first Underwater Clogging specialty course students practice their dance steps on shore Thursday before attempting them underwater later that afternoon. (Photo by Al Stephenson)

The first Underwater Clogging specialty course students practice their dance steps on shore Thursday before attempting them underwater later that afternoon. (Photo by Al Stephenson)

Inspired by underwater acrobatics at a recent heritage festival, Blacktip Island divemasters Gage Hoase and Alison Diesel have developed an underwater clog-dancing course they began teaching this week on the Caribbean island.

“It’s a traditional southeastern American dance style that tons of our scuba diving guests identify with,” Hoase said. “We pump bluegrass music through a hydrophone and we’ve got 30, 40 divers jigging under the boat in no time.

“The cool thing’s you don’t need prior dance experience,” Hoase said. “We start by teaching the steps on shore in slow motion, sort of like tai chi. Then we drop students in the shallows off Diddley’s Landing public pier for the real deal.”

Diesel noted the classes stress conservation and safety.

“We’re careful to practice in big sand patches so we don’t damage coral,” Diesel said. “All the stomping can kill the viz pretty quick, but students don’t seem to mind.

“The trick’s making sure you don’t step on stingrays in the murk,” Diesel said. “We had to send a woman to the clinic yesterday after she got spined in both feet. Barracuda are a worry, too, with all the thrashing the students do.”

Most resort diving guests are enthusiastic about the course.

“It reminds me of the county fair back home,” scuba diver Suzy Souccup said. “You don’t get that heartwarming clack of clogs hitting the wooden floor, of course, but they let you use tank bangers and underwater rattlers, so that gives the same effect. Sort of.”

Hoase and Diesel say their classes are already packed.

“The guest’ve really glommed onto the idea,” Diesel said. “We’re working up an underwater square dance course, too, and long term we’ll branch out into underwater Latin, hip hop, tap, ballroom and pole dancing courses.”

Not all diver guests are happy with the classes.

“I come to Blacktip Island to relax and look at fish,” said longtime Eagle Ray Divers guest Lou Luxfer. “Now I can’t get in the water without hearing that cat-gutting noise they call music, and you can’t see the fish through all the sand those yahoos kick up.”

Hoase isn’t daunted by the complaints.

“Sure, the clogging stirs up some sand, but the currents off Diddley’s takes most of the sediment over the wall,” Hoase said. “And we’re careful to run classes during non-peak times when there’s not a lot of other divers on the reef, like agency standards stipulate.”

The course is offered as a specialty through NAUI, PADI and SSI. Diesel also teaches a Solo Clogging course through IANTD, which bans use of bluegrass music.

“It’s an agency-specific thing, not a big deal,” Diesel said. “We separate the students from each other as far as we can and play Billy Idol’s ‘Dancing With Myself’ on the underwater speaker.”

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