Mark Ryder, 85, led UM dance program

Mark Ryder, a retired University of Maryland dance department chairman who performed alongside Martha Graham in the 1940s, died of Alzheimer's disease Thursday at an extended-care facility near his Columbia home. He was 85.

Born Sasha Liebich in Chicago, he moved to New York with his mother. Family members said that at age 12, Mr. Ryder began his dance training in the children's program at the Neighborhood Playhouse in Greenwich Village, where he was singled out by faculty member Martha Graham. She soon asked him to join her dance company.


Ms. Graham created roles for Mr. Ryder, including the Minotaur in Errand Into the Maze and the Seer in Night Journey. His family said Mr. Ryder was the first dancer after Merce Cunningham to take the role of the preacher in Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring.

Mr. Ryder served in the Army during World War II and landed at Normandy on the sixth day of the Allied invasion of Europe. Mr. Ryder later recounted that when he learned that Kurt Jooss' dance company was in the next town and that Mr. Jooss would be teaching a series of master's classes, he went absent without leave to take the class.


"The only thing that happened was that his salary was held for a month," said his wife of 21 years, Mary Ratcliffe, a Howard High School physics teacher.

After the war, he began using the name Mark Ryder and danced with the Martha Graham Company until he founded the Dance Drama Duo with Emily Frankel, his first wife and dance partner.

The Dance Drama Duo, later called the Dance Drama Company, toured throughout the United States and Israel with pieces created for them by choreographers Sophie Maslow, Todd Bolender and Charles Weidman. Family members said Mr. Ryder used recorded music for traveling dance companies with the help of Peter Bartok, son of composer Bela Bartok.

Though he did not attend college, Mr. Ryder taught dance in the 1960s at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt. In 1974, he became chairman of the dance department at the University of Maryland, College Park, a post he held for two years. He retired from teaching in 1988.

In the late 1980s, he choreographed shows at Howard County Summer Theater and worked in productions of Once Upon a Mattress, Sugar and Promises, Promises. He played Scrooge in an annual dance production of A Christmas Carol that he co-choreographed with Caryl Maxwell.

In 1999, he was honored at the Columbia Festival of the Arts for contributions to dance.

No funeral is planned.

In addition to his wife, survivors include three daughters, Sebastian Ryder of Burlington, Vt., and Larkin Ryder and Jocelyn Ryder, both of San Francisco; and a granddaughter. His marriages to Emily Frankel and Ann Dumaresq ended in divorce.