Clogging; Ebonite Bowling Balls; Rough River Dam State Park; Forest Giants
Kentucky’s state dance is alive and well in Owensboro at the Lanham Brothers Jamboree; Hopkinsville is home to the nation’s largest producer of bowling balls, at Ebonite International; the Falls of Rough and Rough River Dam are a vacationer’s paradise; and a Danish artist brings Forest Giants to the giant forest at Bernheim in Bullitt & Nelson counties.
Clogging has a special place in the history of Kentucky, and plenty of fans who enjoy learning the style of dance today.
“Clogging is a very old dance,” says clogging instructor Barry Lanham. “It originated in the Appalachian Mountains and is the official state dance of Kentucky. It’s been around for hundreds of years but is a mixture of African, Irish, German, and English step dancing. There are taps on the shoes, on the toes and on the heels, and I love the aspect of using your feet as an instrument.”
Lanham started dancing when he first learned about it as a freshman in college 30 years ago. He became an instructor a couple of years later, and today he teaches dancers of all ages and ability levels in Owensboro.
“We have all different levels of dancers, all different abilities,” he says. “My teaching style is very encouraging. I want to see people smiling. I want to see them having fun. They’re constantly being encouraged to keep going, to keep trying, to try to get a little bit faster as they go. And so through that encouragement and through the repetition of steps, they’re able to master that step and master a routine.”
Lanham explains that there are eight basic steps to clogging, which are the first elements that beginners learn in his classes. Routines are choreographed with different combinations of those basic steps and performed to any type of music that has a fast, lively beat.
“Me and my brother put together what’s called the Lanham Brothers Jamboree,” says Lanham. “The show is based out of Diamond Lake Resort Good Time Theater in Owensboro. Randy and I put the show together about 11 years ago. He does the music part of it. I do the dance part of it. We bring in different acts, but one thing that is always a signature part of the show is the music and the dance.”
Many of Lanham’s students come to the class through friends or family members. “It was my aunt,” says clogger Abby Burns. “She had told us one night at a family dinner that she was going to be clogging so she invited me and my mom and my grandmother and so that’s how we started.”
“I started in it and then my children joined me and as I tell people, they grew up and I didn’t,” says clogger Karen Stiff. “So I’m still here doing that and none of them do!”
“I actually attended a Lanham Brothers Jamboree and I was with a group of friends,” clogger Debbie Fillman remembers. “My friend leaned over and said, ‘this is exactly what I want to do, I want to be a clogger.’ And I said, ‘well let’s do it!’”
“There’s always another step you can learn,” Fillman adds. “There’s another dance you can learn, there’s another routine you can learn.”
Ebonite Bowing Balls
The world’s largest manufacturer of bowling balls is located right in Kentucky. Ebonite International of Hopkinsville produces up to 3,000 bowling balls a day.
“The one huge aspect about bowling that most people don’t realize is that it’s very important to have your own bowling ball,” says Rich Hanson, International Sales Manager for Ebonite. “You can go bowling with your friends recreationally and you can just pick a house ball off the rack. But it’s not custom fit to your hand. That ball’s not designed to have any performance characteristics to it.
“Having your own ball, one that fits your hand properly, makes the game so much easier,” Hanson continues. “When a ball doesn’t fit your hand, it feels heavy because the holes are too big or too small, but having that ball that’s custom fit to your hand makes the game so much more enjoyable. Here at Ebonite international that’s what we do. We design bowling balls that help bowlers get better.”
Hanson explains that Ebonite produces different brands for different purposes. Hammer and Track are high-performance balls designed for top competitive bowlers. Columbia and Ebonite are brands that offer different levels of performance from recreational bowlers on up. Bowling is a popular sport worldwide, and the equipment has evolved over the years.
“I didn’t start bowling until I was 19 and I was in the Air Force,” says Mitch Beasley, Tech Services Director. “I was in Germany. That’s where I learned to bowl. So I learned with a urethane bowling balls. They were a huge advancement compared to rubber and plastic that was made before that. I’d been bowling about four years when reactive resin balls came out and that totally changed the game because their performance was so much higher than urethane was.
“The cores were very simple back then,” Beasley adds. “And then you started learning you could make the cores heavier and the metal make different shapes inside the ball. They performed more. Then you started putting pieces on the side of the cores and then you started getting more performance. Ebonite’s evolved constantly to try and stay on the top and be the leader in the industry as far as performance and technology.”
Ebonite has been located in Hopkinsville for more than 50 years, and generations of family members have worked for the company. “Ebonite means a lot to the Hopkinsville community,” says Hanson. “We’ve created a lot of jobs for the community. I think it means a lot [to the community] to have a company that’s been here for this many years and that has that tenure of employees who know they have security. Every day they get up and they know this company’s been here and this company’s going to be here for a long time.”
Forest Giants at Bernheim Forest
A new art installation at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is gaining a lot of attention.
“90 years ago, when Isaac Wolf Bernheim gifted this land to the people of Kentucky, he wanted it to be a place where people could come and reside in nature with art,” says Visual Arts Manager Jenny Zeller. “For our 90th anniversary, we wanted to celebrate that, and so we commissioned Thomas Dambo, internationally renowned recycling artist, to come to Bernheim and build three giant sculptures inspired by this landscape.”
Dambo is a Danish artist who travels around the world building giant sculptures that he calls a fairytale of trolls. “I’ve done 43 of these creatures so far and now I’m here in the Bernheim Arboretum making another three,” says Dambo. “It’s a mother called Mama Loumari, then a baby girl called Little Elina, and a little boy called Little Nis.”
Dambo aims to incorporate his trolls into the landscape in ways that make them come alive. “When I have to decide where my trolls they live, I try to imagine that if I was a troll, what would I do if I were here?” he says. “I would maybe sit and lean against this tree, or I would look in this pond, and I think it’s nice that my creatures are interacting with the real world because by doing that they seem more alive. You could also put a troll inside a museum or on top of a pedestal and that would make it look more dead. And I’m aiming for having alive sculptures.”
As a recycling advocate, Dambo uses materials that would otherwise be considered trash to build his art. “Here we’re building from whiskey barrels, we’re building from pallets, old slugger bats,” he says. “The horn of my dragon is made of an old discarded slugger bat, and then we’re also building from trees that fell in the ice storm last year.”
“For [Dambo] to be able to pull off these monumentally sized sculptures, he needs to have people helping,” Zeller explains. “He has a crew in Denmark. There’s a team of maybe 15 people and so depending on who’s available for what projects, certain members will go. And this wouldn’t be possible without volunteer help as well. We’ve had 240 slots of volunteer availability and we have filled them up.
“With Forest Giants in a Giant Forest, people are coming to Bernheim for the art and are discovering all these wonderful things about Bernheim as a result,” Zeller adds. “We feel like that’s going to have great potential to motivate our community to see the importance of art in a natural environment.”
“I hope that when a family or a young couple or whoever will see the project, I hope they will take away from it that it’s worth it to leave your screen or your house and go out and experience nature,” says Dambo. “I hope that they will remember that nature is sacred and beautiful and that you can build big and amazing things from trash and ultimately remember to take care of the world we are all sharing.”
Rough River Dam State Resort Park
The Rough River Dam Reservoir in western Kentucky was originally built for flood control in the 1950s. But now, the scenic lake is a draw for tourists and new residents alike.
“I would say that Rough River Lake is the ideal lake for people who want to be close enough to home where it’s not inconvenient but far enough away that you feel like you’re getting away,” says Charlie Corbett, Land Developer with Patriots Pointe Custom Homes. “We’re an hour to Bowling Green, an hour to Owensboro, an hour to Elizabethtown. From my home to the airport in Louisville is 90 minutes, so we’re out in the middle of nowhere but we’re close. When you get here, it’s a different world.”
The area is home to Rough River Dam State Resort Park and was once owned by George Washington.
“[Washington] had bought about 5,000 acres thinking they was iron ore on the property,” says Patti Owen of Rough River Dam State Resort Park. “Come to find out, there was no ore on that land.”
The land later became prosperous thanks to the timber industry.“It was a thriving community at one time,” says Decker. “First suspension bridge in the state of Kentucky spans the river there. It’s just a really neat place.”
The construction of the dam began in 1955 for flood control and became operational in 1961, creating the reservoir. Now it’s a hotspot for boating and other activities.
“The recreational use of the lake for the local economy is really what’s impactful,” says Corbett. “We have about 2 million visitors per year and there are several campgrounds maintained around the lake by the Corps of Engineers. They do a fabulous job with that. We’ve got a little bit of something for everybody. You can camp, you can boat, you can hunt, you can fish. You can jet ski, you can do just about anything outdoors that you want to do.”