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Grand martial artists

Just when a leisurely walk in the park might be on some retired alums’ to-do lists, two grads have different ideas: Nancy Bauman, 72, practices karate and Bruce Kahn, 64, trains in the samurai sword.

Kahn ’66, M’69 invested more than four decades in public and private education. While teaching he took up karate and earned a second degree black belt, eventually teaching karate and women’s self-defense classes. He began training with the samurai sword, or katana, in 2003 and explains it is “just another component of the martial arts.”

Kahn works with his instructor once a week but he practices at least five days a week, most of the time outside. The grandfather of six says the strenuous work requires great mind and body control. “There’s a great deal of beauty and athleticism in the samurai sword,” Kahn says. He jokes that his custom-made carbon steel sword “weighs six pounds at the beginning of class and about 60 by the end.”

Kahn has made considerable progress in a short time. “I’m good,” he admitted when pressed. “About a seven out of ten, but it takes a lifetime to get really skilled. I consider this my ‘last hurrah’ as far as the martial arts are concerned.”

Bauman ’81 joined the Air Force in 1955 after taking a three-year nursing course on Long Island. Marriage and children came along, as well as nursing work, but she eventually earned her bachelor’s degree after nine years of night school.

Looking for an activity, in 1998 she signed up for two months of karate lessons. “They didn’t expect much of me, but I expected much of myself. I had an “I can do that!” kind of attitude.” Personal obligations derailed her training and she didn’t return to it until 2003. Back on track and ready to resume karate in her new hometown in Texas, the grandmother of five and great-grandmother of two has earned a red belt.

Mike Garaguso, head of the academy where she began, commended Bauman. “She tries everything and inspires others,” he said.

Bauman confidently spars with younger and presumably stronger classmates. “We never hurt each other, but we do more as we go along.” And she’s “tickled to death” to share karate with one of her grandsons who’s proud to say, “My Mom-Mom does karate!”

Sisters in step
by Kathy Yurkonis Bell ’95

Stepping—it’s a cultural dance that inspires onlookers to join in clapping and tapping. Now, four Rowan alumni are performing this energetic dance across South Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Lonniece Senior ’97, Michele Gillis ’97, Corrinda John ’00 and Tonya Clark ’02 have mastered this art which involves a harmony of movements, foot-tapping, singing and chanting.

Born from African-American heritage sometime in the mid-twentieth century, it’s a rhythmic show characterized as “body music.” It became popular as more African-American fraternities and sororities used the dance as an expression of their particular Greek organization.

During sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha’s regional chapter meeting, someone noticed they didn’t have a step team. The four grads made a pact with other chapter members to form one.

In late 2003, the ladies began planning their routines, incorporating steps and moves reminiscent of military drills and tap unique to their sorority. “Each organization does particular steps, formations or movements known to that organization,” says Michele.

In March 2004 when the steppers threw their hat in the ring for the North Atlantic Regional Conference in New York City, they found success, placing third.

Flash forward and the group is receiving more and more requests for performances.
Lonniece, employee relations manager at Commerce Bank in Mt. Laurel, does her best to fit her step team practices into an already-packed schedule. She juggles a full-time job, AKA activities and completing her MBA. That doesn’t leave much time for practice. “I work during the week and have school on Saturdays, so practice is three to four hours each Sunday,” she says.

Corrinda John became interested in stepping years ago when she pledged AKA. “It was a great opportunity to represent my sorority,” she says. Over time, she’s discovered the community service aspect offers big returns. The group’s step performances are catching more attention and requests from non-profit organizations are increasing. The AKA motto is Service to All Mankind, which is right in line with what these ladies are trying to accomplish.

“It gives me a sense of giving back to the community and it’s a great way for me to socialize,” says Corrinda.

Pennsauken Delair Elementary School teacher Michele Gillis adds that, as requests for performances mount, so does the pride each has for what she is accomplishing. “We’ve been asked to do a lot more and these folks are definitely appreciating our time,” she says.
Michele says she didn’t get involved with step until she met her teammates in 2003. She’s found it offers her an easy way to socialize with her sorority sisters and gets the chapter’s name out there.

Elementary school teacher Tonya Clark agrees and adds the experience has offered her a chance to work with other fraternities and sororities to benefit those in the community.

“While each of us within our own fraternity or sorority is working together to better mankind, we each do it in our own unique way and this is how I contribute to that mission,” Tonya says.


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