Maria Morales, 89, Spanish dancer who taught at Peabody Institute

September 05, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Maria Morales, a glamorous Spanish dancer who taught at Peabody Institute and entertained at New York nightclubs in the 1930s and 1940s, died Sunday of congestive heart failure at her Mount Vernon home. She was 89.

"She was this extraordinary flamenco and Spanish dancer," said Robert Sirota, director of the Peabody Institute, where Ms. Morales taught until three years ago. "She was irreproducible. You can't find someone with her background, culture, elegance and vibrancy. Her dancing was an expression of all those wonderful things.

"Like many great artists, she was interested in the art, not in herself. And she felt what she was doing was passing on a sacred trust to her students. She was one of the old school."

"Her dance training was absolutely immaculate," said Carol Bartlett, chairwoman of the Peabody Preparatory School's dance department. "She got up in the morning and did her daily barre. ... She was one of the best-known dancers in town. And she had a strong following among her students."

"She was a flamboyant dancer, but her real talent was in choreography," said her son, Ron de Moraes of Los Angeles. "She was willing to take chances and incorporate modern dance, ballet and jazz in traditional work."

"She was very strong-willed," said Anna Menendez, a friend and former student who lives in Silver Spring.

"She demanded perfection. She was tough, and I loved her dearly. She was completely passionate about Spanish dance and music," Ms. Menendez said.

Ms. Morales was born across the street from Carnegie Hall in New York City, the daughter of a Metropolitan Opera conductor, Gennaro Napolitano. As a child, she often sat down to dinner with the fabled tenor Enrico Caruso, who was a houseguest.

She was hailed as a musical prodigy, playing piano with the New York Philharmonic as a teen-ager and winning city and state music competitions. She studied at the Juilliard School, earning a degree in piano performance. She also had a degree in dance from the Academia de Bailes de Angela Cansino in New York.

In 1937, she married Nino Morales, who had been concertmaster of the Buenos Aires Symphony Orchestra. In the 1930s, he formed a 12-piece dance orchestra in Manhattan. She sang and danced as the band performed at the Hotel St. Regis, the Stork Club and the Copacabana in New York, and during summers at the Balsams Hotel in Dixville Notch, N.H. They also had a weekly radio show broadcast on the Mutual network.

In the 1950s, the couple moved to Baltimore, where she formed the Maria Morales Dance Company several years later. She continued to direct the ensemble after joining the Peabody faculty in 1970.

She was also served as dance director of the Peabody Opera Workshop, taught ballet at the YWCA and danced locally with choreographer Wally Saunders, a founder of the Baltimore Ballet Theater.

She staged programs of Spanish dancing with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, where her husband played violin before his death in 1978.

Ms. Morales left instructions that no funeral be held.

In addition to her son, she is survived by two grandsons and two great-grandsons.

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