Bettie Farber, 89, dance instructor, entrepreneur

August 31, 2006|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

Bettie Farber, who imparted self-confidence and the social graces as she taught the foxtrot and waltz to generations of young dancers, died Friday of complications after hip surgery at Bryn Mawr Hospital in suburban Philadelphia. The former Roland Park resident was 89.

Born Bettie Rose Field in Baltimore and raised in Guilford, she was a 1934 graduate of Roland Park Country School. Family members said she initially considered attending Hollins College but changed her mind and moved to New York, where she signed with the John Robert Powers modeling agency.

"She lived in a women's hotel with chaperones and appeared in a Campbell's soup advertisement," said her sister, Ann Field Clark of Baltimore. "She got homesick and came home."

Mrs. Farber studied dance with Baltimore teachers Harriet Brazer and Carol Lynn, and took the Arthur Murray dance instruction course at its Charles Street location, where she also taught.

In 1942, after her marriage to Brent Harrison Farber Jr., she bought a dance instruction business operating at a West Franklin Street auditorium owned by the Catholic Daughters of America and known as Cadoa Hall. The venture became known as Bettie Farber Dancing Classes, which she ran until her 1990 retirement. The business was expanded into Wilmington, Del., and suburban Philadelphia.

Over the years, she taught children from second grade through high school. Family members said she did not like recorded music and used three musicians - a pianist, saxophone player and drummer - later bringing in younger musicians who played light rock.

"She thought the live music added class," said her daughter, Scarlett Ober of Charlotte, Vt. ""But the greatest gift she had was the ability to get her students to present themselves well, to introduce themselves properly and look you in the eye."

Her daughter said Mrs. Farber believed that a firm handshake was an essential social tool.

"Mrs. Farber was a bigger-than-life kind of woman whose dancing classes were a rite of passage for generations of Baltimoreans," said a former pupil, J. Stanley Heuisler. "When she clicked her castanets, it was like a drill sergeant calling people to attention. The whole room stood still."

She went on to hold dancing lessons for children and teenagers at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, where she also taught Sunday school, and at the Mount Washington and Elkridge clubs.

"If you know how to waltz or foxtrot, chances are my aunt taught you. She possessed charm and charisma," said her nephew, Randy Clark. "She also stressed the social graces and how to walk confidently across a room with your escort to the juice and cookie table."

In 1972, she moved to suburban Philadelphia but returned to Baltimore to hold her classes.

She was a former board member of Bryn Mawr School and volunteered at Union Memorial Hospital.

Services were held Monday at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in St. Davids, Pa., where she was a communicant.

In addition to her daughter, sister and nephew, survivors include three other daughters, Brenda Harmeling of Jacksonville, Fla., Fritzi Kallop of New York City and Bettie Farber of Northampton, Mass.; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandsons. Her husband died in 2002.

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