ELKTON — Cecil County residents Cathie Rees Lenhoff and Ruthie Rees Bilas performed a tap dance routine, “Sisters,” as part of a Bobbie Ann’s Dance Studio production in 1958, when they were about 6 years old.
On June 22, the twin sisters, now 66, will reprise that number at the Elkton High School auditorium as part of a show to celebrate the 70-plus years that the family-run dance studio on Mackall Street has been in business.
Lenhoff and Bilas are among several of the former students who have returned to join current and sporadic pupils in the celebratory production showcasing approximately 50 dance routines — including the opener, “Strike Up the Band,” and the grande finale, “Our Favorite Son,” both of which will feature all 60 costumed dancers, ages 2 and up.
Lenhoff and Bilas, retired Cecil County Public Schools teachers, will perform in one of those group numbers, in addition to their “Sisters” duet. Both are active and work out, so they have the stamina for the dancing. Because they hadn’t danced in 50 some years, however, they opted to stay within their comfort zone — routines that string together, for example, three different maneuvers, instead of 10.
The twin sisters, who are very close, are prepared to and particularly excited about performing their “Sisters” routine in the show.
“What could be more fun than to go back 63 years to something you did and do it again?” Lenhoff said.
The show also will serve as a tribute to the late Bobbie Ann Foster, the talented dancer and beloved instructor who opened the studio in 1947, when she was 17. Foster died in 2013.
Her daughter, Susie Foster Smith, 56, and her granddaughter (Susie’s daughter), Anna Smith, 21, are now the instructors. Before her mother passed away, Smith had served as an assistant instructor, in addition to a performer, for more than 30 years. Susie Smith now runs the dance studio.
Akin to the multi-generations of instructors, many former and current students have watched their daughters, granddaughters and even great-granddaughters learn tap, ballet, social, formal, jazz, hip-hop and other dance routines as studio pupils over the past 70 years. An estimated 2,000 youngsters and adults have learned to dance there.
“It’s kind of cool to see her walk in mom’s footsteps,” Stacey Aro, 35, of Elkton, said of her 12-year-old daughter, Zoriah Garnett, who started at Bobbie Ann’s in 2015, some 30 years after her mother took dance lessons there.
Garnett will perform in the June 22 show in which Bobbie Ann Foster’s legacy will be celebrated.
“Here’s this 17-year-old kid who loved to dance, and she turned the thing she loved into a business. She was an extraordinary woman,” said Lenhoff, adding, “And the awesome thing is, here we are, 70 years later, and the studio is still here and we’re coming together for this show.”
In true twin fashion, Bilas expressed a similar sentiment.
“The story is this: Back in 1947, two years after World War II ended, Bobbie Ann started this dance studio and it is still here today,” Bilas said, describing Bobbie Ann’s Dance Studio as an “important part of this community.”
Preparation for the June 22 reunion performance started last summer, with Smith and her daughter tackling the task of tracking down former dance students from the past seven decades.
“We got most of the old programs from all the shows we’d ever done and got the names off of them. Then we started reaching out to them, telling them what we wanted to do,” Susie Foster outlined.
Some expressed reservations, before reluctantly agreeing to don their dancing shoes, once again, and take part in the production. One of them is Heather Crouse-Quinteros, who started her dance lessons in 1986.
“Heather said, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe you’re making me perform after all these years,’” Susie Smith recalled.
As it turns out, they didn’t have to search too long and far to find Crouse-Quinteros, who, although she hasn’t performed a dance routine in eight years, still helps at the dance studio with set design, props and costumes.
Her mother, Sherry Crouse, who started taking dance lessons there in 1990, after her daughter had gotten involved, also will be performing in the show. That goes likewise for cousins Amani Denby, 9; and Alexis and Zoe Ring, sisters who are 13 and 11 respectively.
Kim Herman Sentman, 59, will dance in the June 22 show, too. In 1967, when she was 9, Sentman started at Bobbie Ann’s and spent the next five years learning and performing tap, ballet and jazz, before stopping to play organized sports as a teenager.
“It was pretty traditional. Hip-hop and line-dancing didn’t even exist back then,” she noted.
Sentman returned, however, some three decades later to take adult dance classes, because, as a Cecil County Public Schools’ physical education teacher, she wanted to incorporate basic dance lessons into one of her teaching units. Sentman is now a retired teacher.
“I was on-and-off when I came back. I really regret not sticking with it. The last time I performed was about 10 years ago,” Sentman said.
Because she has remained active over the years, Sentman is up for the physical challenge of the show, she said. She has worked hard during the past several months of weekly practices to regain her dance steps and stage presence, Sentman added.
Sentman’s second return to Bobbie Ann’s has been rich in nostalgia.
“The studio is virtually unchanged. If you didn’t know the how great the instruction was and is there and how much it feels like family, you might even pass it by,” Sentman said. “Being back here in the studio, I’m remembering the performances we did and the costumes we wore when I was a kid. Sometimes I can hear Bobbie Ann, literally hear her, and see her in her dance slippers when we’re practicing.”
Sentman’s connection to Bobbie Ann’s goes farther back then 1967. Her mother, Nancy Steele Herman, is one of the original dance studio students, a pupil of Bobbie Ann’s from 1947 to 1956.
“I still remember doing an Indian dance in one of the recitals,” Herman said, chuckling, before emphasizing, “Bobbie Ann was a very talented dancer and a great instructor.”
Now in her early 80s, Herman will not be dancing in the June 22 show. But she will be publicly recognized by the instructors and students during the event, when she makes an onstage appearance during the finale.
“I think it is fabulous to be rooted in a small town, and Bobbie Ann’s roots are deep,” Sentman commented.
As for Smith, it has been a pleasantly moving experience to teach the June 22 show routines to the students — old and new — knowing that she and her daughter are carrying on the work of their mother and grandmother respectively. (Returning to the stage for the June 22 show after a long layoff, Smith will perform a duet dance number with her daughter, who has been quite active in performances.)
“When I’m rehearsing, I’ll sometimes get a tear in my eye. I’m instructing some of the students that my mother instructed. For me, to be able to do that brings everything full circle,” Smith said, adding, “This represents everything in my life — dance, friendships and family.”
The celebratory show will start at 7:15 p.m. June 22 at the Elkton High School auditorium. As of Thursday, approximately 400 tickets had been sold, according to Smith. Tickets cost $10 each and can be purchased at the door or in advance by calling Bobbie Ann’s Dance studio at 410-398-8199.