Ellicott City woman wins raves as college dance team captain

Christine Jenkins, whose family moved to Ellicott City from Woodlawn when she was in third grade, was a standout basketball player as a young girl, playing on several travel teams.

But she injured her knee during a game while in eighth grade, had surgery the following year and never played organized basketball again.

Instead, she focused on dancing.

And the world of student dance teams is forever thankful she did.

Jenkins was the only freshman to make the dance team at Mt. Hebron, a feat she repeated in the fall of 2009 at Howard University, in the nation's capital.

Now a senior at Howard, the 5-foot-6 Jenkins is the captain of the "Ooh La La" dance line, part of the "Showtime" marching band and president of the school's band sorority.

She was recently named the "most technically trained HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) captain by http://www.bandhead.org, a website that follows marching bands at historically black colleges, and this month was featured in the Baltimore edition of the Afro-American News.

John Newson, the director of band at Howard University, said Jenkins is committed to her craft.

"She works hard and she is a perfectionist. That is the main thing," said Newson, the director for 26 years. "Her goal is to be the best. That not only reflects in her but the whole dance line. She made the team as a freshman and has excelled ever since. I can see how she got that honor" from http://www.bandhead.org.

"We never had the publicity we deserved," Jenkins said. "Now we are getting all of this publicity. We are the best in the MEAC (the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, of which Howard is a member)."

The Howard dance team performs at every home football game, as well as most road games and other events, such as home basketball games. The atmosphere at halftime of Bison home football games at Greene Stadium, just off Georgia Avenue, is electric on fall Saturday afternoons, and Jenkins and the dance team are among the reasons.

The marching band is a big deal at many college and universities and that is certainly the case at Howard, which competes against other HBCU schools in the MEAC. "It is so intense. We have humongous rivalries," said Jenkins.

When the Bison hosted rival Hampton on Nov. 3, the band from each school had several minutes to dazzle the crowd on a chilly, windy day.

"I could not feel my feet," Jenkins said of that game. Howard ended its football regular-season at home Nov. 17 against Delaware State on Senior Day.

The visiting band also gets to perform, and each unit tries to out-do the other. Sometimes the best performance at Howard football games comes at halftime when the bands battle each other, though this year, the Bison had a winning season on the gridiron as well.

"I have to choose the songs we have to do and arrange them how we want to do them. That is what I do. I have to delegate who is doing what and choreograph the formations," Jenkins said. "I am nothing without my team. I make sure I communication with the band director and drum major."

An early start

Jenkins got an early start with dance.

"I started dancing when I was (young) and I just never stopped," Jenkins said.

Her father, Herbert, said she was 4 when she began taking lessons at the Flair Studio of Dance in Catonsville and Baltimore. The elder Jenkins had sisters who were involved in dance.

"I had a sister, Naomi, who told my wife to get Christine over there. This is how she got started," said her father. "They put Christine on the right path."

Jenkins also took part in a dance ministry at Union Baptist Church in west Baltimore, one of the oldest African-American churches in the city.

She attended Hollifield Station Elementary School and Patapsco Middle School, also in Ellicott City, where, as an eighth grader, she saw a flier that advertised tryouts for the dance team at Mt. Hebron. Jenkins tried out and was the only freshman to make the Lancers drill team.

She was the team's captain as a senior and was also captain of the dance company at the school, taking part in national competitions. Jenkins also competed as a sprinter at Mt. Hebron, graduating in 2009.

Scott Ruehl, the principal at Mt. Hebron, said Jenkins was an energetic high school student.

"She was a great person, very outgoing. She was a tremendous kid," he said. "She was definitely a leader in our dance program."

On to college

Jenkins thought of attending Virginia Commonwealth University for its dance program, but did not feel good vibes when she visited the Richmond school. She had a full ride to Morgan State and also visited the University of Maryland in College Park.

"But when I went to visit I got lost," she said.

Jenkins also visited Spellman and Emory in Atlanta, Clemson in South Carolina and the University of Pittsburgh, where her younger brother, Herb, is now a freshman.

But she decided on Howard, in part because it was a historically black school.

"I always went to predominantly Caucasian schools. I wanted to know what it would be like at an all-black school," said Jenkins, a dean's list student with a grade-point average around 3.3.

The summer before her freshman year, she planned to major in dance at Howard. But then she was told that would leave her no time for any extracurricular activities. That did not go over well for the personable Jenkins. "I am a social butterfly," she says.

So she is now majoring in telecommunications management with a minor in economics, and is on track to graduate next spring. Jenkins was contacted by Starcom Media of Chicago at a job fair and plans to make a trip to their offices in March about possible employment after graduation.

But for now she has several busy months lined up. Besides being captain of the dance team Jenkins, who lives in a duplex near Howard, is taking 14 credits hours and works Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sundays at a restaurant in Chinatown.

On top of that, the Howard dance practices from 5:45 to about 8 p.m. each weekday in preparation for Saturday football games.

After football games are over on Saturday afternoons Jenkins is exhausted and usually takes a nap. She would be happy to stay at home Saturday evenings but normally succumbs to peer pressure and heads out with friends to parties.

"I like to have fun as well," she said.

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