Katherine Charles, 55, dancer, musician, teacher

November 15, 2005|By FRANK D. ROYLANCE | FRANK D. ROYLANCE,SUN REPORTER

Katherine Charles, a former teacher at the Waldorf School in Baltimore who was active in the local folk music and dance community, died Nov. 6 of early-onset Alzheimer's disease at the Ruxton Health and Rehabilitation Center in Pikesville. The Waverly resident was 55.

Born and raised in Roslyn Heights, N.Y., Miss Charles was known to her friends as Kate. She graduated from the Waldorf School of Garden City, N.Y., in 1968, then earned a bachelor's degree from Beloit College in Beloit, Wis., and a master's degree from Adelphi University in Garden City.

In the 1970s, she worked in New York City for the Country Song and Dance Society, founded in 1915 to preserve and promote traditional Anglo-American music and dance.

In 1976, she began calling square and contra dances, and later danced with a traditional group called Ring o' Bells, one of the earliest women's morris dance teams in the country. Morris is an English dance form traditionally performed by men, according to Mike Franch, former president of the Baltimore Folk Music Society.

Miss Charles moved to Baltimore in 1980 and began teaching at the Waldorf School, a small, private institution whose teachers stay with the same pupils from first through eighth grades.

In summers, she traveled around the country to call folk dances. She also played banjo and guitar.

By the late 1990s, the effects of Miss Charles' yet-undiagnosed Alzheimer's disease started to manifest themselves. She left the Waldorf School in 1997.

Friends began to notice she was making errors in her scheduling duties as American Dance chairwoman for the Baltimore Folk Music Society. When her illness was diagnosed, Mr. Franch said, "It came as a great relief to her. She said, `I'm not incompetent - I have Alzheimer's disease.'"

As her health declined, more than two dozen friends from the folk music community and her school helped to manage her affairs, clean her house and hire a helper so she could continue to live there for several years.

After she entered an assisted-living facility in 2002, they arranged monthly music parties for her. And eventually they helped her enter a nursing home.

"Some of this was about Kate," Mr. Franch said. But part of it arose from a sense of community, "people who know they have a commonality of feeling, and share similar joys in their lives. ... People realized, `Gee, we're like Kate; we don't have any immediate family in Baltimore, and the people we have to rely on are our friends.'"

On Oct. 1, they staged a tribute and benefit concert for her at Bryn Mawr School, featuring Grammy Award-winning folk musicians and morris dancing.

Miss Charles enjoyed theater and cultivated grapes in her backyard in Waverly. She also painted watercolors of birds, and supported the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and public radio.

Plans for a January memorial service are incomplete.

Miss Charles is survived by a sister, Susan C. Jacobson of Junction City, Kan.

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