Sevalyn H. White, noted Western High School dance instructor, dies

Sevalyn H. White, a Western High School dance instructor whose acclaimed dance teams were known for creativity and artistry, died Aug. 4 from complications of lupus at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson.

The longtime Gwynn Oak resident was 74.

Eva Scott of Wilson Park, who joined the physical education faculty at Western in 1958 and later headed the department, said Ms. White’s dance teams “always won the city-wide dance symposiums” at the end of the year.

“Her teams’ performances were really Broadway-class,” said Ms. Scott.

The daughter of Walter C. Hill, a Bethlehem Steel Corp. steelworker, and Margaret Sterrette Hill-Johnson, a Johns Hopkins Hospital secretary, the former Sevalyn Emily Hill was born in Steelton, Pa., and moved at an early age with her family to a home on Lanvale Street.

“Her interest in dance developed when she was a child,” said her daughter, Shawan Therese Lewis of Gwynn Oak. “She studied ballet and tap dance and participated in numerous recitals in the community.”

After graduating from Edmondson High School in 1961, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1965 from West Virginia State University in Institute, W.Va. While in college, she was an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and performed in various theater productions.

In 1974, she received a liberal arts master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University.

Ms. White returned to Baltimore in 1965 after completing her student teaching requirements in West Virginia, and joined the physical education faculty at the old Western High School, which was then located in downtown Baltimore on Howard Street. It moved in 1967 to its current location on Falls Road.

“Under the tutelage of physical education department head Eva Scott, Sevalyn used her God-given talents and compassion... to teach and inspire hundreds of young women who walked through those red doors,” wrote her daughter in a biographical profile of her mother.

“She was one of of the few black teachers at Western in those days,” said Maria Broom, a noted Baltimore dancer, instructor and actress who appeared in “The Wire” and “The Corner.”

“She was the first one who told me when I was in high school at Western … after one of my performances, that if ever I decided to become a professional dancer, ‘you have the goods to do it.’ Her words of affirmation were such a blessing,” Ms. Broom said.

“In our physical education program we had almost all of the sports — and modern dance was part of our program,” Ms. Scott said. “Like athletics, dance was part of our after-school program.”

In addition to teaching physical education and dance, Ms. White also coached tennis, walking club, badminton and junior varsity volleyball — her teams won several championships.

Still, dance remained her primary focus.

“We used to call it the dance club, which became our dance team,” Ms. Scott said. “She was a good teacher and developed dancers into really good performers. This was all due to her teaching skills.”

“She brought a style of dance that was not traditional, classical, white European, and it was not African dance either. It was modern dance, and that was a good thing,” Ms. Broom said.

“Sevalyn choreographed dances that used music that appealed to more than just white people, and for Western at that time, it was a really remarkable thing,” she said.

Her daughter wrote that Ms. White “created unique and captivating ‘dance stories’ that showcased the phenomenal abilities of her students.”

She was known for “use of innovative props, lighting and music. Her dances were filled with single-leg extensions on chairs, fierce leaps across the stage and flawless symmetry of movement,” Ms. Lewis wrote. “Her theatrical performances wre of the highest caliber and the award-winning Western Dance Team was well known in Baltimore city.”

Ms. White retired in 2000.

“Sevalyn was a little quiet, but she had such a great spirit,” Ms. Scott said. “Her character was so strong, as was her integrity. She was so respected by everyone.”

In addition to her work at Western, during summers she taught dance at Arena Players’ Youtheatre.

She also choreographed and performed in numerous Arena Players productions, often working with the late Ed Terry, a noted tap dancer and instructor who was the leader of Tapsichore, a troupe with which she danced.

Ms. White was dancing as recently as June, her daughter said.

“After she retired, she continued to be active. She played tennis, swam and danced … and tap danced in an Arena production not that long ago,” Ms. Scott said. “She was so busy we called her the Energizer Bunny.”

“She was still coming to my performances, critiquing them, and sending me lovely notes,” Ms. Broom said.

Ms. White was a member of the Baltimore Fitness and Tennis and the Cross Keys Tennis Club. She also was a member of several senior bowling leagues, practiced aerobics and yoga and took Zumba classes on a weekly basis.

She was an active member of St. James Episcopal Church, where she had served on the vestry from 1992 to 1997. She had also been a Eucharistic minister and lay reader from 1992 to 2017.

She was active in the church’s St. Monica’s Guild, Angel Tree Project, Seniors at Play and was an aerobics leader. She participated in the church Dance Ministry, and Health Ministry, the Rector’s Book Club and the 80+Luncheon, for which she was chaplain and chairwoman.

She enjoyed reading, sewing, attending spiritual retreats, baking and spending time with family and friends.

She was also an accomplished cook who was known for her shrimp Creole, homemade apple pie and monkey bread.

“She is now free to dance with the angels,” her daughter wrote.

Funeral services for Ms. White will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at her church, Lafayette Square, 1020 W. Lafayette Ave.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a granddaughter. Her marriage to the Rev. John R. White ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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