Bringing Old And Forgotten Dance Steps Back To Life At The Twentieth Century Club In Lansdowne, Robert Morris Passes On His Knowledge.

Posted: February 28, 1993

LANSDOWNE — They met on the ballroom floor eight years ago and haven't stopped dancing since.

"We were doing the tango," said Robert Morris of Lansdowne, about the Victorian dance event in Cape May where he met his future wife, Katherine Terzi. "It's still one of our favorite dances."

In their professional lives, Morris is a biochemist and Widener University professor, while Terzi is a horticulturist with the U.S. Forest Service in Radnor.

Their passion is vintage dancing, particularly the lost or little- remembered dances. Morris conducts weekly classes in those dances at the Twentieth Century Club in Lansdowne.

There are only about a dozen people in the United States teaching vintage dancing, said Richard Powers, a Stanford University dance historian. "He's the only one doing the teaching, specializing in vintage dancing, that I know of" in Philadelphia, he said.

Some of the once-popular dances that disappeared and have been brought back by Morris and Terzi are the Half and Half and animal dances such as the Snake Dip, Kangaroo Hop, Pony Trot, Dog Trot and the Lame Duck.

Almost disappeared or changed from the original form are quadrilles, Mazurka, Redowa, Maxixe, Schottische, Tango and Fox Trot. But through research, reconstruction and re-enactment, Morris and Terzi make them come alive at dance events and teaching engagements.

"Some of them never made it back," Morris said of the dances. "Those are the ones that Katherine and I do our research on, things like the One-Step. It was the urban folk dance at the time," around 1910, Morris said. "It had a very short life, less than 10 years."

Between about 1815 and 1915, Philadelphia was "a mecca of dance teachers, new dances, music composers, music publishing, dance composers, you name it," said Morris, who while teaching looks like a Victorian-era gent with mustache, dark curly hair swept back, bow tie and a vest with a gold watch chain dangling on one side.

"What Katherine and I do is study (old dance) manuals and published music, and try to re-create the dances," he said.

Morris has reconstructed waltz variations called Bostons, which the couple reintroduced at dance events three years ago in Cincinnati, New Paltz, N.Y., and Newport, R.I.

"I think I may have been the first one to bring (Bostons) into the light of day," he said. "There's . . . the English Boston, Philadelphia Boston, New York Boston. I don't know why they're called Bostons."

For the last five years, Morris has catalogued and organized the music collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia, which he said is priceless.

From the collection, he resurrected the voice quadrille, "the first one that has a choir that sings the dance." It was created in 1837 by Philadelphian Francis Johnson.

Of French origin, quadrille forms still live in square dances and reels, but the true form has just about disappeared, Morris said. More elegant than their square-dancing relative, quadrilles were danced in cities from the early to late 1800s.

Morris said he has danced all his life. "When I was 7 years old, I took dancing lessons at a class one of the ladies in the church gave. It included etiquette lessons."

His interest in vintage dance began about 10 years ago, when he went to a dance week in Brass Town, N.C., given by dance master Powers.

"That's when I . . . fell in love with the dance form," Morris said. He and Terzi now study with Powers each year.

At the Twentieth Century Club on Tuesday night, the eight dancers from three generations watched as Morris' soft, black shoes moved to demonstrate a dance he is resurrecting, the Prince Imperial Quadrille by Thomas Hillgrove, published in 1863.

As they practiced the quadrille, the men bowed and the women curtsied in the traditional salute. The women chassed across the squeaky, shiny wooden dance floor, joining their partners to move to another quadrant.

"We love Victorian things and that age," said market information analyst Kathleen Trainor, who with her husband, Pat, is restoring a Victorian house in Drexel Hill. "We went to a Victorian ball on New Year's Eve (and) had such a good time, we decided to take classes."

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