Rebecca Harris, 97, teacher at festival, ethnic dancer

March 25, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Rebecca Harris, a former ethnic dancer who performed at New York's Carnegie Hall and later taught at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts, died of pneumonia Sunday at North Oaks Retirement Community in Pikesville. She was 97.

Ms. Harris was born in Baltimore and raised on Eutaw Place. She was a 1925 graduate of Western High School and began studying dance in Baltimore.

Her first professional appearances were at the Baltimore Museum of Art and Baltimore Opera Company. She also appeared as a soloist with the Carol Lynn Ballet in Baltimore.

Several years later, she was recruited by La Meri, a noted American-born ethnic dancer, to join her Exotic Ballet Company in New York City. Her company toured in the United States and South America.

It was in South America that Ms. Harris became interested in native dances. Returning to New York, she studied at the School of Ethnologic Dance Center, founded by La Meri.

Ms. Harris' repertoire included the Peacock, a North Indian dance; Pujah, which combines the burning of incense and scattering of flowers; Bolero, a classic form of Spanish ballet; and the Farruca, a flamenco dance.

After Ms. Harris made her debut as a solo dancer at Carnegie Hall in 1951, Walter Terry, dance critic of the New York Herald Tribune, wrote that each of her numbers "was danced with authority and with stylishness. Vitality and graciousness were also present."

After her Carnegie Hall performance, Ms. Harris was asked by Ted Shawn, founder with his wife, dancer Ruth St. Denis of the Denishawn School, to perform as a soloist at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshires.

Ms. Harris retired from performing in the 1960s, but continued to conduct summer workshops at Jacob's Pillow for several years.

She later returned to Baltimore and lived at the Belvedere Towers until moving to North Oaks in 1994.

Ms. Harris enjoyed attending the theater, opera and ballet in Washington and Baltimore. She was a longtime subscriber to the Mechanic Theatre and Kennedy Center.

Services were Monday.

She is survived by many nieces and nephews.

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