Eva M. Anderson, the founder of the Baltimore Dance Theatre and a pioneer who taught complex cultural choreography to hundreds of students while always emphasizing its historic origins, died Oct. 7 of heart failure at her home in Columbia.
She was 84.
The granddaughter of a slave, Mrs. Anderson incorporated African cultural themes in both her beautiful, brightly colored homemade clothes and her dance choreography, friends and family said.
In more than three decades as an instructor in Baltimore and Columbia, she showcased her students’ abilities at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Howard County Community College and other venues nationally and internationally.
Mrs. Anderson was named to the Howard County Women’s Hall of Fame for her contributions to the arts in 2007, and her homemade costumes and props are on display at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African-American History and the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
But her radiant personality — elegant and sophisticated, yet approachable — was what set her apart, family and friends said.
“Underneath all of that glamour, she was a very down-to-earth, easy-to-talk-to person,” said Sandy Barrett, a family friend who served on the board of directors for the dance theater. “She had a warmth that brought you in, and once you sat down with her, you didn’t want to leave.”
Eva Marilyn Jones was born March 8, 1933, in Chester, S.C., the eldest of three children to Gwyndolyn Elston, a professor at Johnson C. Smith University, and Joseph Thomas Jones, a Presbyterian minister.
She attended Mather Academy, Bard College, and Johnson C. Smith and Adelphi universities. She married Hyde Humbert “Buddy” Anderson at age 20. The couple had three children in 59 years of marriage.
The Andersons spent their early years of marriage in Charlotte in the 1950s, then moved to pursue job opportunities to New York in 1961, and then to Long Island in 1963, their children said.
Mrs. Anderson opened the first Eva Anderson Dance Troupe in Long Island four years later, while Mr. Anderson worked various jobs as an agency manager at an insurance company, a waiter and the owner of a dry cleaner’s.
The family moved again, to Columbia, in 1973. Mrs. Anderson launched the Baltimore Dance Theatre at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in East Baltimore in 1975.
“Her big thing was she wanted to make sure she was taking children who never had an opportunity and exposing them to dance,” said her son Joseph Anderson, 54, of Ellicott City.
A strict teacher, she would sometimes subject her three boys to an in-house dance lesson instead of a spanking as punishment for misbehaving, they said.
“She would give us ‘The Eva Anderson Dance Experience’,” Joseph Anderson said. “Which was not enjoyable. It was miserable. … I think she enjoyed it.”
Her students, on the other hand, raved about her lessons.
Sharon Henderson, a dancer who studied under Mrs. Anderson, said she mentored her students and taught them to dance with emotion.
A dancer’s body is an instrument, Mrs. Anderson told her, and the stage is a canvas.
“She nourished me and groomed me to be the productive woman I am today, through dance and through mentoring as well,” she said.
Yvette Shipley Perkins, another dancer whom Mrs. Anderson taught, said she and her classmates could have learned to dance elsewhere, “but we would not have done the works we did without Eva being at the helm.”
She called Mrs. Anderson a “dream-maker.”
“She drew from our experience to develop her ideas,” she said. “There was constant and loving feedback between this genius choreographer and her dancers, who might not have had this access and that love without her.”
A third student, Charles Carter, now a dance instructor at Morgan State University, said he emulates her teaching style, as do her other students who went on to teach.
“Any dancer you might see in Baltimore City, any dancer — Eva Anderson has had an effect on their life,” he said.
After Mr. Anderson, who drank martinis, died in 2011, his wife kept a briefcase with a martini glass and ingredients, said Jacques Burvick, a friend who is a jazz producer and composer in Silver Spring.
“She’d never travel without that case,” he said. “It was a tribute to her husband. She’d make one single drink as a tribute to him ... every day until the day she died.”
The $7,500 raised from a benefit show in her honor last year will go toward a dance scholarship in Mrs. Anderson’s name at the Howard Community College, said Carolyn Kelemen, a dance writer who studied with her.
Plans for a memorial are incomplete. A free concert, called “A Tribute to Eva Anderson,” is planned at Morgan State University’s Hurt Gymnasium at 4 p.m. Nov. 26.
In addition to her son, Mrs. Anderson is survived by two other sons, Hyde Humbert Anderson Jr., 61, of York, Pa.; David Scott Anderson, 58, of Columbia; three grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.