Stage & Dance

Lexington Vintage Dance makes music, too, on CD featuring 28 Kentucky works

Danby Carter, center left, waltzed with Michael French during a Lexington Vintage Dance rehearsal last week.
Danby Carter, center left, waltzed with Michael French during a Lexington Vintage Dance rehearsal last week. Lexington Herald-Leader

It's a typical Thursday night in the third-floor dance studio at ArtsPlace as eight dancers talk their way through an intricate series of steps they must execute together.

It's not a chorus line or ballet on pointe. Lexington Vintage Dance specializes in social dances of centuries past that people would learn to be proper company at balls and other festive occasions.

That sort of dance seems to be a thing of the long ago, though Lexington Vintage Dance founding member Merrell Fuson says he thinks that's in large part due to a lack of familiarity.

"If everyone could know what it feels like, there would be a lot more people dancing," he says. "It's an immense rush when you dance; to float and to fly and twirl with other people is a wonderful experience."

The focus of Lexington Vintage Dance is getting the steps right, but its current marquee endeavor is a CD of mid-19th-century dance music by Kentucky composers. The tracks on the two-CD set, A Romantic Revel in the Athens of the West, include homegrown names such as Fayette Waltz, The Galt House Schottisch, Mammoth Cave Waltz and Our American Cousin Polka.

The project emerged from a collaboration with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra during celebrations of the bicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln's birth in 1809. The orchestra wanted to present a program called Kentucky Music and the Lincoln Family using five musicians playing arrangements by Nikos Pappas, an American music expert who earned a Ph.D. in musicology and ethnomusicology at the University of Kentucky before joining the faculty at the University of Alabama in 2012.

Through that program, Fuson thought an album of music by Kentucky composers would be possible. He worked with Pappas to come up with 28 pieces for the CD.

"It's more than enough for a full-scale ball," Fuson says.

Project coordinator Danby Carter says the Philharmonic declined to be part of the CD project but gave the group its blessing to proceed. The disc features numerous Lexington musicians known for their work with the Phil and other groups. They include violinist Brice Farrar, cellist Rebecca Kiekenapp, flutist Merrilee Elliott, clarinetist Mike Acord, pianist Jay Flippin and others conducted by Vintage Dance member Kelly Sikorski, who is a music teacher by day.

"Many of them were in the original orchestra for the Lincoln project," Fuson says.

Much of their music is classically based, but Sikorski says, "Classical musicians are usually required to place a premium on tone and intonation, very precise, very beautiful playing. And of course, you want that with any kind of music. But in dance music, rhythm is more important than that. Because there are so many different types of dances on the CD, getting the tempo exactly right, the style and articulation right for the movements the dancers need to make is really kind of the priority.

"But that wasn't difficult with the musicians that we had. They're so good."

Recording actually is not an odd niche for dance ensembles, the vintage dancers note, as groups need music to dance to and will seek out recordings.

Carter notes that the group's previous CD, Lady Caroline's Regency Romp, had sales around the world, and one of the tracks was in a YouTube video by a vintage dance group in Bath, England.

"We have sold a few of the new CDs to France and Russia, already," Carter says.

The album is part of what has been a busy season for Lexington Vintage Dance, including participating in filming a documentary about the 100th anniversary of the Kentucky Governor's Mansion and being featured in a segment on KET's Kentucky Life, which will debut at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Vintage Dance does not have a set season but is asked frequently to perform for educational programs and events that mark major anniversaries or celebrate cultural touchstones like the PBS hit Downton Abbey.

"Theoretically, we should be in prime time," Fuson says of Vintage Dance. "We're at the bicentennial of the Regency period, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War period and the centennial of the ragtime period."

Sikorski laughs and says, "Heaven only knows what we'll be doing this time, next year."