Severna Park is mourning the loss of longtime dance teacher and mentor Mary Carter, who passed away on December 30.
Born in 1931, Carter began private dance lessons at the age of 4 and was asked to teach at age 11. She dedicated her afternoons and weekends to teaching throughout high school and middle school. In 1962, her husband’s work brought her to Severna Park and the rest, as they say, is history.
The first Carter School of Dance opened with 60 students at the old Carrollton Manor Clubhouse. For 43 years, Carter was sponsored by the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) and taught classes to over 800 students in Severna Park, Arnold, Pasadena, Odenton and Davidsonville. In 2007, she sold the school but continued to operate it under her own name and creative direction.
When the Severna Park Community Center purchased the school from the new owners in 2013, the name changed to The Dance Center of Severna Park, but Carter was asked to stay on as the creative director.
Though Carter’s studio endured many changes, her passion for teaching never wavered. With over 50 years of experience under her belt, Carter touched the hearts of many students.
“It's difficult to summarize how much I really learned from her,” said Kristin Joda, who danced at the Carter School of Dance from 1990 to 2003. “Hundreds of routines, easily. Under her direction, she taught me even more about commitment, humility and creativity. I believe everyone who has ever been a student of the Carter School of Dance would have felt her glowing influence.”
For Kellie Greer, the director of The Dance Center of Severna Park, Carter became like family.
“She taught me my very first year of dance and she trained me as a teacher and then on how to lead the studio. From the time I was 7 years old, she's been in my life,” said Greer. “She was like my grandmother and that’s how she was to all of her students.”
Lisa and Kate Gahs began dancing with Carter at the age of 3.
“My sister, Lisa, and I both fell in love with ballet and tap when we started taking dance lessons with the Carter School of Dance,” said Kate, who danced at the school for more than 30 years. “Mrs. Carter always came into a class with a smile and enthusiasm. She never forgot a face, and inspired so many generations of dancers.”
Both sisters will remember Carter for her positive attitude and ability to make students feel special.
“At the end of each recital, she would take the microphone and tell the entire group of dancers gathered onstage that they were wonderful,” said Lisa. “It never mattered how many mistakes you might have made by the end of recital, to hear her say how wonderful it was made every dancer feel talented.”
At work, Carter had the same infectious positivity.
“There isn't much difference in her as a teacher and as a colleague or friend,” said Greer. “She wanted everyone to love what they were doing. If you didn't love what you were doing than you needed to find something that you did love. She told stories all the time. Even during our meetings at work. She’d always have a story and a lesson.”
Carter was famous for ending each recital by saying, “Don’t walk in your bare feet.” This simple saying will stick with her students for years to come.
“After she thanked the teachers, crew and parents, she would tell the dancers to promise they would not walk in bare feet over the summer so they can come back to class in the fall,” said Lisa. “Ending each year with an invitation to come back was, for me, a reminder of how much she loved teaching us, and how much we loved being in class with her.”