Meet Hillary Klug, Broadway’s fiddling buck dancer
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
By Tayhlor Stephenson, Studio M staff //
Saturday rolls around, and 25-year-old Hillary Klug — wearing cowboy boots, which she claims to be her dancing shoes, a gray T-shirt and cuffed blue jean shorts — shuffles her feet to the beat of her fiddle.
Fiddling buck dancer HIllary Klug performs on Broadway in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Tayhlor Stephenson, Studio M)
“Now, that’s Nashville,” says a passerby, in awe of Klug’s multitalented trade.
The Tennessee-based musician calls the corner of 4th and Broadway her work home. In addition to busking full time, she’s currently recording her debut album, “Fiddle Feet,” and she’s also filming a scene and recording the soundtrack for an independent film set to release next summer.
Her ability to draw enthused crowds with only her feet and fiddle has led to many awards, including the title of National Buck Dancing Champion, which she earned in July 2013 at the Uncle Dave Macon Days Old-Time Music Festival in Murfreesboro.
“The combination of the fiddling and dancing is what makes Hillary special,” says 53-year-old Jim Wood of Flat Creek, Tennessee, Klug’s long-time fiddle instructor. “There are good fiddle players and there are good dancers, but I don’t know anybody in the United States who dances as well as she plays or plays as well as she dances.”
Klug grew up in Fayetteville, Tennessee, as the youngest of three children, all of whom received a homeschool education from Klug’s mother, Nancy. While her mother taught the children and worked as a caregiver to the elderly, Klug’s father, Mike, worked as a carpenter.
“Both my parents were kind of self-employed; they took their own financials into their own hands,” Klug says. “It just came natural to me to use the talents I had to make money rather than having to go find an employer to give me a steady paycheck.”
Lexi Lew, a 23-year-old busking regular, understood what it took to become a street performer, and she encouraged Klug to do it for a living.
“More people travel the streets rather than each individual bar, so more people see your talent on the streets,” Lew says. “Also, it’s not bad money when you’re talented like Hillary.”
But it’s not all about the money for Klug.
“I love busking,” she says. “I’m out there because people love me, and I like contributing to the atmosphere. I would still be doing that even if I weren’t making any money.”
Klug knew at an early age that her script would include a fiddle on-shoulder. By 13, she pleaded her mother to take violin lessons.
“My mom made a deal with me,” Klug says. “She said, ‘You pay for half of violin, and I’ll pay for the other half of it … but if you quit taking lessons, you have to pay me back for my half.’ So, I kept taking lessons and never quit.”
Klug later ran into Wood at the Flat Creek Dance, a contra dance-focused gathering that meets at the Flat Creek Community Center every other Tuesday.
Not only did Wood help musically, he also lent one of his property’s homes for rent while Klug studied at Motlow State Community College in Tullahoma, Tennessee, where she earned a $5,000 scholarship to study music in Brazil for a month.
But fiddling wasn’t enough to preoccupy Klug — or her fans, for that matter.
She soon found herself competing in dance competitions — which usually offered a clogging and buck dancing category — while at festivals and other events. Next on Klug’s plate: buck dancing.
After graduating Motlow in 2014, Klug transferred to Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and earned a bachelor’s degree in English. In May 2015, she married her husband, Michael, whom she also met at the Flat Creek Dance.
With a luscious garden, chickens aplenty, four cats and an Anatolian Shepherd named Ataana, Klug lives a full life, but it wouldn’t be complete without her beloved arts.
There’s just one problem: Legal officials are running these performers off the streets under Ordinance 13.08.040. That has yet to stop Klug from sharing her musicality, though.
Her talents have garnered her titles like the Kentucky State Championship in 2013, and under Nic Gareiss, Klug traveled Ireland for nine days to study dance in April. She’s also traveled Europe — Ireland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg — to broaden her busking.
Klug dreams of nothing more than playing the Grand Ole Opry one day. Until then, street performing — and the ongoing fight to rightfully busk on the Nashville streets — preoccupies her.
“She’s done what all serious musicians do, as far as she has learned from many traditional sources and everything, but she’s not stopped at that. She’s coming up with her own thing based on the traditions,” Wood says.
Tayhlor Stephenson is a student journalist with a strong interest in music. She currently studies at Middle Tennessee State University, where she serves as the Lifestyles Editor for MTSU Sidelines.
Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.