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Dancing back in time for the holidays at Towson's Hampton Mansion

DanceWar of 1812Tourism and Leisure

Organizers of the annual Holidays at Hampton celebration go to great lengths each year to ensure the weekend-long Christmas event is as historically accurate as possible. The costumes, decorations and customs that are practiced are meant to transport visitors back to the time of the Ridgely family.

Luckily, they didn't have to look far for entertainment to bring this year's guests back to a special period in Maryland history.

Goucher College's historic dance ensemble, Choreographie Antique, will hold a Grand War of 1812 Ball on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 9, at Hampton Mansion. Members of the dance troupe say it's a performance that has been in high demand during in 2012 — the 200th anniversary of the war.

"We've been doing all kinds of performances this year of the War of 1812," said Chrystelle Bond, a dance professor at Goucher and a Campus Hills resident.

Bond, one of the founders of Goucher's dance department and, in 1988, a founder of Choreographie Antique, said the group began as a student group. Students, however, can't stay students forever, so over time the group morphed into a mixture of students, alumni and interested friends.

Two of those friends, Alan Gephardt and Cora Provins, will perform something of a special show on Sunday — both work for the National Park Service at Hampton Mansion.

According to Bond, the Great War of 1812 Ball fits well with Hampton's mission of education the Towson community on the customs and traditions of the mansion's builders.

"Choreographie Antique constructs dances from the past, but (looks at) why it is important today," she said.

The way children and young adults dance today reflects the current political and social culture, and the same applied during the period the group will be creating, Bond said.

"During the War of 1812, dancing was very popular," Bond said. "In fact, Baltimore and Philadelphia were better, bigger dance and theater centers than New York."

Dance took on an added importance during the War of 1812, she said, and that was especially true for families such as the Ridgelys at Hampton Mansion. Dances were held for social and celebratory purposes, but also took on political and patriotic meaning.

Even some of the dances they plan to perform are named for America's French support in the war, as well as America's naval fleet.

"Dancing was going on all the time in Baltimore," she said. "I've done some research on the Ridgelys as well. This is something they would have done. It's not something we're plopping in there."

Sunday's Grand War of 1812 Ball will serve as the culmination of a festive holiday weekend at Hampton, Dec. 7-9.

The three-day event kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday, with a candlelight open house through the mansion. Over the holiday season, the each room of the mansion is decorated as it would have been in different eras of the Ridgely family's time at Hampton.

Also on Friday evening, the Junior League of Baltimore Larks will perform holiday music in the Great Hall during the open house, while on Saturday, Doug Jimerson will host a holiday sing-along in the Orangery throughout that evening's open house.

At 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, guided lantern tours will take guests through the Ridgely family cemetery, with militia reenactors across the grounds firing muskets. Meanwhile, guided tours of the mansion will be conducted hourly on Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 10 a.m., culminating with a special three-hour open house beginning at 1 p.m.

At 2 p.m. Saturday, park ranger and storyteller Angela Roberts-Burton recounts "Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarter." The program is designed to show how differently those who lived at Hampton Mansion celebrated the holidays than those who were enslaved there.

Period craft activities will be held concurrently with Saturday's candlelight open house, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., in which participants can make Victorian greeting cards and design a "gold gilded" frame, among other activities. Craft activities are on a first-come, first-served basis.

Carriage rides begin at the mansion Sunday at 1 p.m. and run through 4 p.m. Visitors are advised that seating is limited, and tickets can be purchased beginning at noon. Also Sunday, Roberts-Burton will give tours of the slave's cabins and tell traditional African-American stories at 1 and 3 p.m. at the Lower House.

Hampton mansion is located at 535 Hampton Lane, Towson. For more information on events, visit http://www.historichampton.org or call 410-823-1309.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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