Plan ahead: London New Year’s 2019

Wheat, FHS alumnus, part of acclaimed cloggers invited to perform in England

When the moody holiday song “What Are You Doing New Years’ Eve?” plays this winter, Farragut High School alumnus Megan Wheat will have an answer — for New Year’s Eve 2019.

She won’t be at the ball drop in downtown Knoxville or at the midnight parade in Gatlinburg.

She’ll be in a cozy bed somewhere in London getting her beauty sleep before the big day.

Early on New Year’s Day 2019, she’ll gather with other dancers from East Tennessee. They’ll wait — nervously, no doubt — for their cue to clog their way through Central London through Piccadilly, Piccadilly Circus, Lower Regent Street, Waterloo Place, Pall Mall, Cockspur Street, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall and Parliament Street.

“My team, the Tennessee Hoedowners, and some other teams around us have been invited to go with America’s Clogging All-Stars to London to dance in the New Year’s Day Parade in 2019,” Wheat said. “My team went this past year and did it and have been invited to come back. I didn’t get to go this past trip, but I’m definitely making sure I go this coming time.”

Wheat got her start in clogging when she was unexpectedly invited onstage about 28 years ago.

“We were at Dollywood one time when I was 5 or 6,” she said. “My cousin was onstage clogging with a group she danced with. I didn’t know she did this. They were doing a hoedown where they got the crowd involved and she came and got me to go onstage with her and do a little impromptu hoedown.

“I thought, ‘I really want to do that.’ It kind of sucked me in.”

She started taking classes at a studio in Farragut from Christina Dudley.

“She got us started competing the second year,” Wheat said. “We were the ‘Southern Sweethearts.’ My first competition outfit was one of those Dollywood dresses with the crinoline, very frilly, with all the white lace — and red. I still have that dress and the crown. It’s very little. We did the Dogwood Arts Festival, competitions at Dollywood. Those were the most local ones we did.”

Through the years she has participated in about 200 competitions all over the Eastern half of the United States, including a Junior Olympic competition in Michigan.

Wheat is now a medical assistant, but she’s also an athlete who manages some knee and ankle problems. “Kinesiology tape is my new best friend,” she laughed.

In spite of those problems, she hopes to compete for many years.

“The team I’m on now, the Tennessee Hoedowners, we meet in Surgoinsville, about a two-hour drive from here, and practice once a week.”

Her team includes moms, teachers, an assistant principal, those in the medical field and a high school student.

“We just came back from nationals with National Clogging and Hoedown Council,” Wheat said. “There are four organizations who each have their own nationals, so you compete throughout the year and depending on how you place determines whether you get to go to nationals.”

Wheat doesn’t necessarily practice clogging every day, but if you catch her standing still, she might start doing steps absentmindedly.

“If we’ve got a new routine, I’ll have a video of it on my phone and I’ll watch it once a day or running through the steps in my head,” she said.

“Competitions used to involve a lot of adrenaline. Now I don’t get nervous unless it’s a brand-new routine we’ve never done and we’re on edge at least for the first time. I still love the dance part,” she said. “It’s increasingly difficult because everybody keep coming up with new things to do and the footwork gets more and more complex. As soon as your brain and your feet connect — ‘I did it.’

“The clogging world is a huge family,” she added. “You get to go and see all your friends you’ve made over the years at the different competitions. They live in other states. That’s the upside to all the traveling and sitting at competitions until the wee hours of the mornings.”

Things have changed a lot since Wheat started at the age of 5. Now cloggers are dancing to hip-hop music in addition to Top 40 songs and the costumes are no longer the fluffy dresses.

She knows what she’ll be doing New Year’s Eve 2019.

But will the team be dancing through London in crinoline?