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Dancing with the past in Chambersburg

November 22, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The mention of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers drew blank stares from a couple of the performers before the show, but they were, in a way, following in the footsteps of those fabled hoofers Tuesday night.

For about 10 weeks, a group of about 40 Chambersburg Area Senior High School students studied a century's worth of steps to perform "From Lincoln to the Moon' 100 Years of Dance in American Society."

From the grand marches and quadrilles of Civil War balls and the waltzes and tangos of the early 20th century to merengue and swing of modern ballroom dance, they learned about dance and its historical contexts from Nancy J. Walker, the founder of Danza Antiqua, an historical and educational dance company.

Tuesday night on the auditorium stage, they got to strut their stuff for an appreciative audience.

Daniela Crawford said she had never had any formal dance instruction, but "decided to do something different for my senior year." Along the way, she said she learned a lot and earned a few blisters for her hard work.

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"There's been some pain involved, but it was worth it," she said.

"It's a lot of fun and you learn how to work with people," said Megan Clark.

"The clothes are very difficult, but the dancing is easy," said Matt Martinez, dressed for a Victorian ball.

"A grand march would always open a 19th century ball," said Jef Savage of Danza Antiqua, introducing the opening performance of Civil War era dances and their complex choreography. Evan Sutton of Danza Antiqua read some of the dos and don'ts of ballroom behavior from "The Art of Dancing," an 1863 book by Thomas Hillgrove.

Married couples were advised only to dance together once during an evening and, when a woman declined a gentleman's request for a turn on the floor, Hillgrove advised he "bear the refusal with becoming grace."

Hillgrove also advised men to refrain from smoking or spitting tobacco as it is "not only nauseating to the ladies, but injurious to their dresses."

The students progressed to the ragtime dances popular before World War I. Vernon and Irene Castle, perhaps the most famous dance duo of the time, had their own set of rules of conduct, including avoiding "low, fantastic and acrobatic dips."

The dancers then moved on to the less formal styles of the post-World War II era.

"It was awesome. They taught us a lot and it was great to learn something to share with our parents," said Cora Snelson.

"We were thinking about joining a dance class around here, it was so much fun," twin sister Carrie Snelson told Walker after the performance.

"From Lincoln to the Moon" was supported with a grant from the Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts administered through the Council for the Arts in Chambersburg.

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