by Nila Priyambodo
photography by Reina Santa Cruz
“Swing right with your partner,” a contra dance caller yells. The men, holding the women in a waltz-like position begin to twirl their partners around with their poofy skirts. “Then do-ci-do with the one you know,” the caller continues. The couples walk around their partners, passing each other over their right shoulders. “Clomp!” Everyone stomps in unity on the wooden floors every fourth beat throughout the dance. For University of La Verne Associate Professor of Biology Christine Broussard, her husband Jeremy Korr and, “caller” of this dance, and their son Gabriel, this is contra dance heaven.
Unlike the tango, the waltz, square dancing or even the Macarena or the Chicken Dance, many have not heard of contra dancing. Contra dancing is an American folk dance style similar to country and square dancing. The dance is always accompanied by a live band with instruments, including banjos, guitars, drums, fiddles and flutes. Dancers line up in a contra line and each couple performs moves, such as the gypsy, do-ci-do, swings and twirls that are announced by the caller (the person announcing the moves and leading the dance). However, before each dance, the caller teaches the newcomers the basic moves that will be used, ensuring that everyone will have a great time.
Additionally, each person receives a partner at dance start. Men can ask women, and women can ask men. However, it is bad etiquette to reserve a person in advance. It is also impolite to dance with the same person more than once. “I know it’s impolite, but sometimes I have to ask my husband to be my partner before the dance because I don’t always get the opportunity to dance with him,” says Christine. Jeremy, who is on the board of a local contra dance series, adds, “I’m usually the caller at the dances so Christine and I usually dance the first dance together.”
Just like many, contra dancing was something Christine knew nothing about. She was first introduced to contra dancing by her friend while she was completing her post-doctoral training at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. “My friend invited me one day to go contra dancing. He said, ‘Come on. You’ll love it.’ And he was right. I loved it,” says Christine. “Contra dancing is its own culture,” she adds. “It’s inviting, welcoming and community oriented.”
Christine’s first dance in Maryland was the start of her passion. Since then, she has contra danced in Colorado and Vermont, and is a regular at the Veterans Hall in La Verne every second Sunday of the month. “I love to contra dance,” says Christine, who also enjoys salsa, Cajun and country dancing. “It’s one of my favorite dances. It’s less about the way you look and more about enjoying the dance and music.” It was also at a contra dance where Christine met Jeremy, who has contra danced since the late ‘90s and called since January 2003 in California, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Michigan. “We have two different versions of how we met. Jeremy tells people that he asked me to dance the first real contra dance, but from what I remember, I asked him,” says Christine with a smile. “One of us asked the other to dance,” interrupts Jeremy, trying not to create an argument. “We danced a circle mixer before our first real dance, but that doesn’t count because everyone dances with everyone in that dance,” says Christine. “So we agreed to also do the dance after that one, a regular contra dance in lines,” adds Jeremy. “Her natural joy stood out even in a crowded hall of 150 dancers. Christine seemed so happy while dancing, almost flying off the floor. When we were next to each other in line, she said to me, ‘Why do so many people here not smile?’ I wished everyone there could hear her.”
During the dance, the two realized they had another common interest: teaching. At the time, Christine was looking for a faculty position in colleges. Meanwhile, Jeremy was giving presentations on how to put a teaching portfolio together and was also teaching at the college level. “We kept on talking and dancing after that, and were married 16 months later,” explains Jeremy, now an assistant professor of social sciences at Chapman University in Victorville, Calif., summing it up like it happened that quickly and easily.
“I love myself and who I am when he’s around,” adds Christine. Says Jeremy, “Christine is kind and caring to her family and friends, whether at home, at a dance or elsewhere. Her pure joy is most visible when she’s listening to live folk music at concerts. She closes her eyes and listens so intently that the music becomes a part of her.”
In January 2005, Christine and Jeremy welcomed a new partner to the contra dance family with their newborn son, Gabriel Joseph Broussard Korr, also known as “Peanut.” Gabriel is named after Christine’s father, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather. The new parents hope that Gabriel will have the same love for contra dancing and music that his parents do. “He’s been dancing with us ever since I was pregnant,” says Christine. “Music is so important to us, and I want it to be important to him too,” adds Christine, who sings to Gabriel as a bed time routine while Jeremy plays the banjo.
Jeremy was also influenced by his parents to love music. “This is similar to how I grew up,” says Jeremy, whose father Rocky Korr, was an Israeli folk dance teacher and dancer for more than 40 years in the Washington, D.C. area. As a child, Jeremy attended the dances his father taught or those venues his mom danced at. “In fact, my mom was out folk dancing the evening before she gave birth to my younger brother,” adds Jeremy.
Some may think that contra dancing does not exist, and that it is not a real dance. And although many may not have heard of contra dancing, Christine says that it is more popular than one thinks. There are more than 200 different contra dances, including the “Chestnut,” “Zesty Dance” and “Circle Mixer.” Also, in Los Angeles County alone, there are 12 different contra dance series. Each state has at least one contra dance series. Contra dances in the East are usually attended by high school and college students, while contra dances in the West are usually attended by an older group. The La Verne dance is an example of the smaller series, where usually only 20 to 30 people participate. However, dances in Boston usually have about 200 to 400 participants. It may not be as well known as the Macarena, disco or the Chicken dances, but it is still quite popular. It is popular enough that it found Christine.
Even though Christine passionately discovered contra dancing, there is one childhood love in her life: biology. Growing up in Louisiana on a farm full of ducks, chickens, sheep, cows and horses, Christine was always interested in animals. So at age 10, Christine had two choices of what she wanted to be when she grew up: a gymnast because she was tiny or a marine biologist because she loved animals. “I’ve always excelled in learning and loved learning that I knew I wanted to go into biology,” says Christine.
In St. Martinville Senior High School, she had an 89 percent average in a chemistry class taught by a “Mr. Bernard.” Because Christine grew up in a less fortunate household, she could not afford to go to college unless she received a scholarship. With a history of having a sexually abusive father, Christine’s only escape was college. Knowing her hardships, Mr. Bernard curved the grade by a point, making sure that Christine went to college. “Now I know that it was ethically wrong for him to do that, but at that time it was the only way for him to propel me to college,” explains Christine. She received a full tuition scholarship and attended college in Louisiana. There she had two favorite classes: immunology and microbial pathogenesis. In college, Christine worked three jobs, at a bookstore and department store to pay for books and extra costs, served as a resident assistant and created Beta Beta Beta, a biology honor society. “Because of what I went through, I am so appreciative of my education,” says Christine. “I remembered when I couldn’t see a future for myself, and I didn’t want to go through that again.”
With an interest and passion for immunology, Christine attended the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center to receive her master’s degree in immunology. “Biology is a whole other level of information,” she says. “I didn’t want to stop at an undergraduate degree. It’s complex, elegant and like a puzzle. It’s also like popcorn and candy. I just wanted more.”
As for teaching, that is her other love. While doing her post-doctoral training and research at the National Institute of Health, she went through a divorce with her first husband. “It got me thinking about my life,” she says. “I had my mid-life crisis early, in my late 20s, early 30s, and I asked myself, ‘Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?’” Christine is the person everyone would turn to for advice or just to talk to because she is a great listener. With that in mind, she left research and decided to go into teaching. “In research, the brain is well utilized, but this skill that I have wasn’t. That’s when I went into teaching.”
She chose to teach at the college level without any hesitation. “I think my greatest motivation has been wanting to reach students on the cusp of their independence,” she says. “For many students, myself included, college is their first real experience being independent,” she adds, explaining that students get to pick their own classes and schedules. “This experience allows students to begin to think of how they fit in the world, how they can contribute to the global community, and what kind of person they want to become. It’s a very important time in many students’ lives. I’m happy to be a part of it as a guide and mentor.”
Other loved ones in her life also see how natural teaching came for her. “She wanted to be a teacher so she could give back to others and teach those less fortunate. She had a difficult childhood and made good for herself, and now she wants to help others who are less fortunate do the same,” says Sherry Panzer, a friend who presents folk concerts at her house, stood as Christine’s “parent” at her wedding and was asked to be her son’s grandparent.
Christine was attracted to ULV in 2001 because of its mission statement, which has an emphasis on taking care of the planet. “We have to take a role in stewardship and be concerned about the environment,” says Christine. She also sees a huge benefit in teaching. In order to be able to thoroughly teach her students, Christine has continually kept herself updated on the latest technology and information. “As long as I have this job, I get to keep learning,” she says. “Just when I thought I knew everything about the subject I was teaching, the students would ask the greatest questions and would allow me to learn more.”
“As children, we all have ideas of what we think our ideal profession will be. I think Christine found her calling in teaching,” adds Stacey Darling Novak, ULV associate professor of biology. “The department would be incomplete without Christine. Her expertise in cell biology and immunology adds an essential dimension to the department.” Christine is currently researching the presence of pesticides and how it affects our immune systems. “I want to make this world a better place,” she says. “We’re making decisions and approving pesticides when we don’t know how it’s affecting our immune system.”
“She’s a wonderfully dedicated teacher and researcher with high standards, who cares about her students,” says Jeffery Burkhart, ULV professor and Fletcher Jones chair of Biology. “With her, it’s not just about teaching the facts, but how to think and do research. She’s a huge expert on immunology and molecular biology whom we wouldn’t have at La Verne without her.” According to Jeffery, Christine is currently working on research and getting grants numbering in the thousands of dollars.
As for her future, Christine is only concerned with one thing. “I just want us to be happy and healthy. These are the two most important things in life. The details will take care of themselves.”
“But,” Christine adds, “I can see me, Jeremy and Gabriel contra dancing our way through life together.”