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Dancing through the decades

The studio is steamy with the residue of a day's plies and tendus. Despite the heat, a small, blonde woman stands in her tights, leotards, T-shirt and white jazz shoes amid a circle of dancers. Above the scratchy "Maple Leaf Rag" blaring from the stereo, she shouts, "Right, left. Two step turn. Keep your elbows together."

The renegade elbows belong to the dancers of Chore´graphie Antique, the dance history ensemble of Goucher College and the largest group of its kind in the United States. The admonishing voice belongs to Goucher professor of dance, Chrystelle Bond, the group's artistic director and founder. Chore´graphie Antique's repertoire spans from medieval times to hip-hop and stepping dances taken from the 1980s. All have been reconstructed by Bond, assistant artistic director Jayme Klinger-Host and Goucher students. Though there are other companies that perform historical dances, notably ones in New York, Boston and Riverside, Calif., only Chore´graphie Antique has such a wide range of repertoire and body of dancers -- a normal Monday night rehearsal includes at least 20 men and women.

And one, two, three: Although it originated in Eastern Europe, the polka was a favorite dance in this country during the Civil War. (Photo courtesy of Goucher College)

According to Bond, the ensemble began at the insistence of two Goucher dance history and criticism majors eager to reconstruct dances from the 19th century. They led performances in the Goucher Library with a budget of $100 for costumes. After the women's graduations following the 1988 debut, Bond thought the group would die.

"We'd done a performance at the Carroll Mansion and they kept calling us back," said Bond. "They wanted to know what we were called and Susan [Susan Bader, one of the two students originally responsible] couldn't come up with anything and so I said, 'why don't we just call it Chore´graphie Antique?' The next thing you knew we were doing the whole historic circuit. ... The kids were interested and they wanted to learn and then I turned it into an academic course three years later."

"My favorite part of Chore´graphie Antique is getting to learn all the different dances from all the different time periods," said Goucher senior Kristy Raffensberger, who is in her third year dancing with the group.

Corsets galore: An extensive costume collection adds to the authenticity of dances like the sarabande, a baroque dance. (Photo courtesy of Goucher College)

Learning history without a desk, paper and pen heightens Chore´graphie Antique's appeal.

"It gives [the students] a sense that scholarship is not just something you do within a musty museum," said Bond. "Scholarship can be in the reconstruction process or manifested in choreography."

Not only does scholarly work manifest itself in different ways, but students understand history on a more personal level. Dancers dance and dress (the costume closet is impressive) just as figures of the past did.

"When you watch the movement, it doesn't look difficult," said Klinger-Host. "But, when you put on the corset and find you can't lift your arms, you have a different understanding of how dance has evolved and why."

Moving to the ragtime: Ragtime dances were popular during World War I, from about 1910-1917. (Photo courtesy of Goucher College)

Social dance provides a glimpse into so many different aspects of history. Young, old, rich, poor -- everyone dances. Chore´graphie Antique's ensemble is similarly diverse.

Bond said, "It goes back to what social dance is all about. ... There wasn't an age factor, a body type factor. That's part of dance as part of the humanities, not just dance as an art form. Chore´graphie Antique began there. Its inception was faculty, students, husbands and boyfriends. That was the gene pool when it started."

Not much has changed. These days Chore´graphie Antique rehearsals are home to a fourth-grade teacher, a physician's assistant, a Department of Transportation worker and a nurse, among others.

Beale Cockney, the fourth-grade teacher, said, "[Chore´graphie Antique] gives me an opportunity to dance a type of dance I can do. It doesn't require extreme range of movement."

It does, however, require a quick mind because of the group's large repertory, ranging over four centuries. Not many people can claim knowledge of baroque minuets and ragtime animal dances.

"We have to learn all the dances, even if we're not performing them," said Alyssa Nesko, a Goucher sophomore beginning her second year with the group.

Chore´graphie Antique presents this large task with performances throughout the Mid-Atlantic area during the year. Recent events include a trip to Washington, D.C. for the Dancing in the Millennium Conference and to Philadelphia for the 2000 Feet Conference in the summer of 1999. Check out Baltimore performances in April of each year at Goucher College.