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Orchesis reunion celebrates 80 years of dance tradition at Saint Mary's
Mary Virginia Swain '77C

Orchesis Dance Theatre, founded in 1938 by Jane Goss, celebrated 80 years at Saint Mary's with a weekend of reunion activities and concert, November 9-10. Orchesis has a long and rich history at Saint Mary's. According to The Heritage by Martha Sprouse Stoops, Saint Mary's was, in fact, one of the first educational institutions in the state to teach modern dance.


Orchesis Dance Theatre, founded in 1938 by Jane Goss, celebrated 80 years at Saint Mary's with a weekend of reunion activities and concert, November 9-10.

Alumnae Orchesis members gathered for a social hour, Friday, Nov. 9,5:30-6:30 p.m., on Smedes Terrace, prior to the Friday night fall concert. Saturday morning began at 9 a.m. with brunch, followed at 10 a.m. for a rehearsal of those alumnae performing in the concert. The Orchesis Reunion concert, featuring alumnae performance, was performed Saturday afternoon in Pittman Auditorium, followed by a reception.

"We were extremely excited about welcoming Orchesis alumnae to join us in this concert," says Rim Metina-Belknap, president of Orchesis 2018-2019. "Alumnae have helped build and transform Orchesis over the years and continue to support the company."

The concert featured choreography by Saint Mary's dance faculty, Lisa Yount and Michelle Pearson, with guest artist choreography by Kirstie Spadie.

"Since 1938 when Orchesis was founded, dancers have been a part of Saint Mary's campus," say Saint Mary's dance faculty. "The styles, choreography and costumes may have changed over the years, but one this has remained constant: Orchesis dancers pour their hearts, bodies, intellect, and humanity into creating dance performances that engage and delight the SMS community. The fall 2018 Orchesis dance concert promises to deliver dancing that 80 years of alumnae would be proud of. From ballet, to jazz, to contemporary, to tap, this concert highlights the immense talent and passion of current Saint Mary's dancers. In addition to new dances and favorite pieces of the past being restaged, we have the joy of Orchesis alumnae returning to perform! What better way to celebrate all Orchesis has brought to Saint Mary's for 80 years than by dancing!"

Orchesis Dance Theatre has a long and rich history at Saint Mary's. According to The Heritage by Martha Sprouse Stoops, Saint Mary's was, in fact, one of the first educational institutions in the state to teach modern dance.

"In the 1930s, all students took creative dancing once a week for physical education," writes Mrs. Stoops. "Jane Goss went to Saint Mary's in 1938 to teach dance and was director of the physical education department, 1943-1951. She was educated at Cortland State Normal and the University of Wisconsin. At Saint Mary's, she immediately organized Orchesis, a dance club composed of her advanced students. Each year, those students, under her direction, took the lead in planning, writing, costuming, and choreographing the May Day pageant. Enthusiastic and friendly, Jane Goss was a campus favorite. She married longtime Saint Mary's faculty member William Guess in 1941." A stained glass window in the East transept of the Chapel memorializes the couple, who were beloved by Saint Mary's students.

In the 1960s, two other dance clubs were formed – the Caperettes tap dance club and Gillie Callum Scottish Dancers. Orchesis remained the honorary modern dance club made up of the best dancers and choreographers. Doris Bailey arranged master classes for Orchesis with well-known dance teachers, and her students were invited to take part in fine arts festivals on college campuses.

Today, Orchesis Dance Theatre is Saint Mary's student dance company. Students who are serious about performing participate in the company by the invitation of the dance faculty. All Orchesis company members must enroll each semester in dance technique classes. Students enrolled in technique classes at another training facility will be considered for Orchesis upon review by dance faculty.

There are two formal Orchesis concerts each year. Students perform dances choreographed by Saint Mary's dance faculty, guest artists and can invest time exploring their own choreography. Working in group ensembles, as well as in more personalized contexts for solos, duets and trios, students perform varied works of choreography in modern, contemporary and classical ballet, jazz, and hip hop.

Students performing in Orchesis have primarily been trained in classical ballet, modern, and/or jazz. In rehearsal and performance settings, a student's previously learned skills are respected. The rehearsal process provides new information to further their knowledge, breadth, and scope of dance.

"We believe Orchesis founder Jane Goss would be proud of what Orchesis has become," says Rim Metina-Belknap. "Orchesis members have been working hard since August to prepare this concert, and we were excited to share it with alumnae, families, students, and friends!"

Saint Mary's dance faculty, Lisa Yount and Michelle Pearson, contributed to this article.