Jeffrey Steven Watson, a ballet artist and teacher recalled for his physical strength as a dancer, died in mid-July at his home in the Ridgely’s Delight section of Southwest Baltimore. He was 57.
His brother, Benjamin Watson, said a medical cause of death had not been determined.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Mount Vernon, Jeffrey Watson was the son of Cerita Watson and Charles Collins. He attended St. Ambrose School and was a 1983 graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts.
In a 2012 City Paper interview, he recalled being initially rejected for a spot at the School for the Arts as a singer. He recalled being “too shy” but found a spot in the school’s ballet program as the arts high school was opening in 1979.
The City Paper article said that while he was a student at the Baltimore School for the Arts, he met dancer Sylvester Campbell, who was known as “the Black Nureyev,” referring to the famed ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.
“Seeking an audition, Watson began sliding notes under Campbell’s door— so many, he says, that Campbell later told him he almost slipped and fell as he entered his office. Campbell gave him a try-out, asking him to attempt several basic poses, and discovered that Watson was a natural,” the article said.
He went on graduate from Point Park University in Pittsburgh. He danced with the old Baltimore Ballet and for several years with “Gotta Dance,” a Broadway-themed revue at King’s Dominion near Richmond, Virginia. He also danced on a tour with Aretha Franklin.
In 1986, he joined the Dance Theatre of Harlem in New York. He lived in New York City.
“I would always joke, I was always playful, I would always flirt with the girls,” Mr. Watson said in the article.
He was recruited to join the Ballet Estable del Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and also performed with the Ballet Theatre of Maryland.
“Even at 47, a few days shy of his 48th birthday, he still moves with fluidity and grace as he mimics the motions of a pirouette or an Evita pose with his upper body while sitting at a restaurant. Watson is incredibly fit and toned, his face youthful and animated,” said the 2012 City Paper story.
In 1991, Mr. Watson, who was then temporarily not performing in New York, returned to perform with the Maryland Ballet at the Lyric Opera House.
“Who’d want to collect unemployment when they can dance?” he said of the opportunity to return to Baltimore for alternating “Nutcracker” roles, including the Snow King and Mouse King.
He danced in the Baltimore School for the Art’s annual production of the “Nutcracker” in the old Alcazar Ballroom. In 1994, he also danced in the school’s Artists to End Hunger Concert.
“Don’t let your dream be denied,’’ Mr. Watson said in a 2003 article in The Capital. ”Being a dancer is like being a daredevil. You dare to dream. If you don’t take that chance, you can’t dance.’’
A 2002 review of the Maryland Ballet said: “Company stalwart Jeffrey Watson, a powerful Snow King, danced smoothly with lovely Snow Queen Anmarie Touloumis. … Perhaps most exciting was Watson’s sensuous dancing in the Arabian Divertissement with his gorgeous partner Sarah Cincotta.”
Friends described Mr. Watson’s physical strength.
“To double down on Jeff’s importance, a lot of young male ballet dancers aren’t developed enough to do lifts,” said Lamont Harvey, a friend since their days at the Baltimore School for the Arts. “He was prized for his physical strength as a partner by a lot of local companies …”
Mr. Harvey also said: “I’d say there was a generation of Maryland ballerinas who were partnered by Jeff until other guys developed the strength to do it.”
Mr. Harvey also recalled their summers together as students.
“As students, we congregated at his mother’s apartment near Penn Station,” said Mr. Harvey. “We had summertime jobs at Ed Kane’s Harbor Boating, the boat rental place in the Inner Harbor.”
In 2011, Mr. Watson began teaching with the Arabesque Dance Studio in Columbia and taught for Baltimore City Schools. As a teacher, he advised his students, “I told the kids: ‘You all are my little pieces of paint, and this is my palette, and we’re about to make a masterpiece.’”
He also was a bartender at Dougherty’s Pub on West Chase Street in Mount Vernon.
Survivors include his brother, Benjamin Watson, a musician and former lead guitarist for the Almighty Senators.