Elkridge dance fever

The Baltimore Sun

When the disco music came on at the wedding of Damon Foreman's daughter last weekend, he and his wife, Mary Ellen Baker, busted out some slick dance moves that had the other guests applauding.

Mo and Barbara Dutterer of Columbia spent their eight-hour drive on Memorial Day weekend listening to Amii Stewart's "Knock on Wood" and planning out a swing dance routine.

And recently, Michael and Karen Schonfeld of Ellicott City hit the dance floor at a club in Las Vegas, showing off their swing dance combinations.

Dance fever is in the air in Howard County as those three couples, along with Maggie and Nesbitt Brown of Columbia and John Bouman and Mary Jo Brenner, both of Clarksville, prepare to wow the crowd at Howard County Tourism's second "Dancing with the Dazzling Howard County Stars" contest Wednesday evening.

The dance-off will be the conclusion of the tourism council's French Riviera-themed Soiree in the tented garden at the Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge. The event will feature live and silent auctions, music and other entertainment. At least 20 local restaurants and organizations will provide food and beverages.

"We feel as the travel industry, we should transport people," said Rachelina Bonacci, executive director of Howard County Tourism. "We should be escapist and fun."

The Soiree name and French theme are in place for the second year, as the council seeks to establish the evening as a signature event, Bonacci said. More than 400 guests attended in 2007, and $40,000 was raised for the council.

This year, 10 percent of the Soiree proceeds will go toward a scholarship for a student in Howard Community College's Hospitality and Culinary Arts Management program. The winning dancers - as determined by audience applause - will have the scholarship named for them.

Mo Dutterer said he and his wife Barbara have been dancing socially since 1988, so they were amenable when asked to cut a rug at Soiree.

Mo Dutterer is a former Centennial High School theater teacher who now has a private voice studio. Barbara Dutterer has been an elementary school educator for 30 years and is currently a guidance counselor at Gorman Crossing Elementary School.

While they have discussed what they would like to include in their performance, Mo Dutterer said they have not laid out their dance step by step.

"We know an awful lot of East Coast Swing," he said. "I told her, we've been dancing together for all these years, you just follow me."

The Schonfelds said they have no background in dancing, but they have thrown themselves into lessons at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in order to learn a club swing-style dance to the Finger Eleven song "Paralyzer."

"We thought that [style] was a little more modern," Karen Schonfeld said, "and once we learned it, we might be able to use it out at events and out at clubs."

Karen Schonfeld is Mid-Atlantic business banking market manager at M&T; Bank, and her husband leads the real estate banking department for Hopkins Federal Savings Bank. "I guess our biggest challenge has been time [to practice] and getting the whole thing memorized," she said.

"It's two and a half minutes," she said. "Hopefully we can stay focused and get through it and still look like we're having fun."

Foreman and Baker of Columbia, who have been married three years, had to meld their dance styles after they were the first to volunteer for the event.

As a professional musician and founder of his own music academy, Foreman said he is most comfortable grooving on stage with a guitar around his neck. Baker, who is the manager of special events and heritage programs for the county Department of Recreation and Parks, said she learned on her high school pom-pom squad to value precision and synchronicity.

Regular lessons since January have helped with the moves, and both admit to feeling pretty comfortable in front of crowds. They plan to dance the Hustle and cha-cha to "Hot Stuff" by Donna Summer.

"We were thinking it would be a lot of fun to do something from the '70s," Foreman said. "We thought that might be a little different than the usual ballroom."

John Bouman and his dance partner Mary Jo Brenner are fans of more traditional ballroom dance.

The two have performed together and individually in productions at Howard Community College and in other theater and concert settings, as well as dancing socially in the area for two years. Brenner has made a professional career of dance and dance instruction, while Bouman has pursued dancing in addition to a 25-year career teaching economics at HCC.

Their cha-cha for Soiree, to Jennifer Lopez's single "Let's Get Loud," is the first dance they have choreographed.

"We don't have a ballroom dance background," Bouman said, "so it's sort of a challenge for us as well. We really don't look at this as a competition. It's mostly just to have fun and for people to enjoy what we're doing."

Of all the couples, Maggie and Nesbitt Brown are taking the most relaxed approach to the event with plans to dance "as you usually see us on the dance floor."

It took some cajoling to get Nesbitt, a research chemist, to agree to dance in front of an audience with his wife, who is president of the Columbia Association.

"I am trying to reassure him, we'll just go out and dance and have fun like we always do," said Maggie Brown.

They have chosen to freestyle to Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give it Up."

The two used one session with a professional teacher to polish their skills and learn to "work the crowd," Maggie Brown said. But, she warned, "I have no plans to leap up and go over his head and do a flip, and if I slid between his legs, I'd probably never get up."


Dance card

What: Soiree, Howard County Tourism's annual fundraiser

When: Wednesday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Where: Belmont Conference Center, Elkridge.

Program: Samplings from 22 county restaurants, live and silent auctions, "Dancing with Howard County's Dazzling Stars"

Cost: $75 in advance; $80 at the door. Four-ticket package $250.

Information: 410-313-1904.

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