Wally Saunders, a choreographer who taught dance to DTC thousands of Baltimoreans and others for 38 years, died Saturday at his Pikesville home of liver disease. He was 61.
Mr. Saunders, whose legal name was James Sanders, operated the Wally Saunders Dance Studio in Pikesville, one of Baltimore's oldest, teaching jazz and tap dancing and ballet to students who ranged in age from 4 to 76.
His most famous student was actress Goldie Hawn, who traveled to his studio from her Silver Spring home in the 1960s.
But others, who never aspired to fame beyond his classroom and went on to enter medicine, the law, education and other career fields, continued to study dance with Mr. Saunders in the evenings.
"I loved his sense of humor," said Nan Rosenthal, who works in public relations and took classes from Mr. Saunders for the last 30 years.
"He would critique everyone with a certain humor in it and a love in it. You wanted to perform things the way he wanted it done -- out of love for him, not out of fear," said Ms. Rosenthal, who was to eulogize Mr. Saunders today.
Even as his eyesight began to fail several years ago, Mr. Saunders continued to teach, listening for mistakes in his tap dancing class, and moving up close to peer at the alignment of the legs and torsos in his jazz dancing and ballet classes.
Although ill, Mr. Saunders continued to prepare for a student concert in June by dictating dance steps to friends from his hospital bed.
He attended Forest Park High School, then moved to New York City to study tap and jazz dancing and ballet with several teachers, including the Russian ballet dancer Alexandra Danilova and Michel Fokine, the Russian choreographer who created "The Dying Swan."
During the 1970s, he directed three local companies -- Children's Music Fair; Baltimore Ballet Theatre; and Wally Saunders Dance Company, which performed locally for 10 years.
He also was on the faculty of the National Ballet Company and the Washington School of Ballet and was a guest teacher at several schools, including American, George Washington and Towson State universities, and Hood and Goucher colleges.
He was a choreographer for the American Light Opera, the Baltimore Actor's Theatre, Metropolitan Musicals and the Little Theatre of Alexandria, Va.
Mr. Saunders is survived by a sister, Ruth Mansfield of Florida; a close friend, Ralph Locklear of Baltimore; and several nieces and nephews.
Services were to be held at 11 a.m. today at Loring Byers Funeral Directors Inc., 8728 Liberty Road, Randallstown.
The family requested memorial contributions to help finance the Wally Saunders Dance Studio's June concert: Performance for the Kids, c/o 7102 Plymouth Road, Pikesville, Md. 21208.