Harriet S. Eisner, a popular ballet, modern dance and flamenco instructor who taught for nearly 30 years at her Harriet Sauber Eisner Studio of the Dance in Pikesville, died June 12 of pancreatic cancer at her One Slade Avenue home. She was 88.
Harriet Sauber, the daughter of grocers, was born in Baltimore and raised in Hamilton. She was an Eastern High School graduate and earned a bachelor's degree in 1943 in English literature from Goucher College.
Mrs. Eisner started dancing when she was a child and, not long after, became a teacher.
"She began teaching when she was only 13 years old, charging a few pennies per lesson in her parents' house," said a granddaughter, Jessica "Jessie" Gould, a newspaper reporter and contributor to WAMU-FM in Washington.
"In the summer, she would choreograph concerts in her backyard. The makeshift school turned into a thriving business, and my grandmother was its CEO," said Ms. Gould.
After graduating from Goucher, Mrs. Eisner taught dance at the college and married Henry W. Eisner that same year.
Her husband, who had fled Nazi Germany with his family, arrived in Baltimore in 1939. He later became a successful advertising executive when he established Eisner & Associates, which later became Eisner Communications. He died in 2004.
Mrs. Eisner opened her first dance studio in 1950 in her Greenspring Avenue home in Mount Washington, and in the 1970s moved to the Alley Shops on Reisterstown Road in Pikesville.
"She did indeed teach me to dance," said her son, Steven C. Eisner of Guilford, who added that several of his boyhood friends also took lessons from his mother.
"She taught us flamenco, Russian dances and how to tap, and we had a lot of fun," he said. "And to this day, I can still put it over on weddings because of her instruction."
Mr. Eisner said his mother was an understanding and caring teacher.
"She loved the art of dancing and was a born teacher," he said. "She was a very patient instructor and tailored her level of instruction to her various students' level of talent, and she'd bring out their best in them."
In her eulogy for her mother, Nancy J. Eisner, who lives in Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., recalled that her mother's students would "arabesque in her living room, glissade (or bum-ty-bum) in the dining room and tour jette into the kitchen."
Ms. Eisner said that wherever she went in Baltimore, once people heard her name, they'd say, "Aren't you Harriet Eisner's daughter?" and then would tell her that they had studied dance with her mother.
Ms. Eisner recalled being on a remote island in the Caribbean on vacation when a woman, upon learning her name, exclaimed, "I took ballet with your mother."
The one student who proved to be a problem was her husband.
"She finally concluded that it was best to let him think he was leading," said Mr. Eisner, with a laugh. "She was always voicing the steps, and if they were doing the cha-cha, for instance, she'd say, 'Cha-cha-cha, go right, cha-cha-cha, go left,' while maintaining the rhythm."
Through the years, Mrs. Eisner's students gave annual public spring recitals at the old Maryland Casualty Auditorium and at Cadoa Hall on West Franklin Street. She also choreographed ballet performances at the Baltimore Ballet Workshop.
Mrs. Eisner closed her studio in late 1977.
Last fall, Goucher College dedicated the Eisner Studio to honor Mrs. Eisner's lifelong involvement with the college.
"She was a very loyal alumna of Goucher. She was always attending dance events. Last year, we named a state-of-the-art dance studio in her honor, of which she was very proud," said Sanford J. "Sandy" Ungar, college president.
"I first met her when I became president of the college, and we became very good friends," he said. "She was a woman of strong opinions, and if she liked you, then you had a very good friend."
An avowed atheist, in her retirement Mrs. Eisner became interested in evolution and immersed herself in collecting and reading the works of Richard Leakey, Stephen Jay Gould, Jared Diamond and Richard Dawkins.
"While not a big fan of organized religion, she always considered herself a cultural Jew," said her daughter, who added with a laugh, "and she loved Jewish food."
Mrs. Eisner was a longtime volunteer with the Central Scholarship Bureau and was an active member of the National Council for Jewish Women.
In addition to reading, Mrs. Eisner enjoyed playing bridge and golf. She was also a member of the Suburban Club.
Services were held Tuesday.
In addition to her two children and granddaughter, Mrs. Eisner is survived by two other grandchildren.