Marianne Elser Crowder, who shared the joy and discipline of dance with generations of young women and who showed older women how to remain fit and flexible, died peacefully June 4 at her Palo Alto home at age 104, surrounded by family and friends. She had pancreatic cancer.
Born in Colorado Springs, Colo., from a very early age she exhibited an unusual gift for dance. She enrolled in the Perry Mansfield School of Dance and Theater in Colorado and studied with many of the leading pioneers of modern dance, including Louis Horst, Doris Humphrey, Helen Tamiris, Hanya Holm and Daniel Nagrin.
When she completed her studies she joined the Hanya Holm Dance Company during their residences at Bennington College and Mills College. She managed and performed with the Perry Mansfield Company on the RKO Vaudeville Circuit throughout the United States and Canada.
Settling in Colorado Springs, she taught both modern dance and folk dancing at the Cheyenne Mountain School, the Broadmoor Academy of Dance, and was named chair of the Dance Department at Colorado College.
She resigned her position to marry writer Paul Crowder and they moved to California in 1940. For 19 years she taught in the Stanford University Drama Department and choreographed dances for major Stanford productions for the Drama and Music Departments. Her expertise in historical dance led to choreographic commissions for the Carmel Bach Festival and the production of the film, "The Court Dances of the Renaissance."
In 1949 she initiated a series of courses in corrective exercises sponsored by the Palo Alto Adult Education program and later the Menlo Park Recreation Department, where they still continued. She also began a decades-long studio to teach young girls dance. Many programs, with scripts written by her husband, involved hundreds of students over the years. She retired from active teaching at 95. In 2007 she was celebrated as the oldest Girl Scout in America -- the Weekly published a detailed article about her life on April 20, 2007.
She is survived by her two daughters Anne Gully (Anthony) of Tempe, Ariz., and Susan Miller (Robert) of Lafayette. She leaves 10 grandchildren (Wendy Crowder, Rosamond Crowder, Rodney Headington, Hilary Hanel, Megan Davis, Tracy Chiappone, Christopher Chiappone, Cary Chiappone, Emma Gully, and Craig Chiappone) and 12 great-grandchildren.
A private family memorial service is planned. In lieu of flowers the family requests gifts in her memory to the UCSF Foundation's Pancreas Cancer Program Fund, P.O. Box 45339, San Francisco, CA 94145-0339.
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