Virginia Freeman Weil, 83, a longtime dancer, choreographer and teacher, whose choreography was seen in more than 100 operatic and theatrical productions in the Washington area, died Oct. 22 at her home in Chevy Chase.
She had pancreatic cancer, her daughter Hannah Ehrli said.
Mrs. Weil, who was known professionally as Virginia Freeman, came to Washington in 1957 after studying with many major figures of modern dance, including Martha Graham, Jose Limon and Merce Cunningham.
She was a leader of the D.C.-based modern-dance group Dance Quartet for several years before founding the Washington Dance Repertory Company, which she directed from 1963 to 1969.
Mrs. Weil continued to perform as a dancer into her early 50s, but she may have made her most lasting mark as a teacher. She taught for more than 60 years, beginning as a high school student in Ohio, when she worked with college football players to improve their footwork.
For 16 years, until she retired at 80, Mrs. Weil taught movement and dance at the Maryland Opera Studio, a graduate program at the University of Maryland. She used what studio artistic director Leon Major called “a language of her own” to teach singers how to dance in authentic historical styles, how to move around a stage and even how to tumble down a staircase.
“I think it’s crucial for singers to know how to move and control their bodies,” Leon Major, artistic director of the Maryland Opera Studio, said in an interview. “She was an amazing teacher. Her instructions to her students were crystal clear.”
Mrs. Weil worked on many productions with the Maryland Opera Studio, including “The Tales of Hoffmann,” “Don Giovanni,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Eugene Onegin.”
Over the years, she taught at other Washington-area institutions, including Howard University and the old Mount Vernon College in the District, and at several private dance studios. She was an assistant professor at American University from 1963 to 1977 and was a dance instructor and choreographer at the private Madeira School in McLean from 1982 to 1992.
In addition to teaching, Mrs. Weil choreographed more than 100 theatrical and operatic productions at the Kennedy Center, Arena Stage, Folger Theatre, National Theatre and other stages. Her credits ranged from more than a dozen plays of Shakespeare to “The Little Shop of Horrors.”
Virginia Louise Freeman was born April 12, 1928, in Delaware, Ohio. Her father was a physical education professor at Ohio Wesleyan University, and together they performed dance routines at halftime during football games. In high school, she worked with the Ohio Wesleyan football team on improving their footwork and agility.
Mrs. Weil graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1950 and taught at the University of Illinois before receiving a master’s degree in dance from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1955.
She taught and performed in New York and Connecticut before moving to Washington. When she led her own dance companies, she conceived and choreographed many of the works and restaged dances by other choreographers.
She was a member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers and, for many years, was the Washington correspondent of Dance magazine. She was a member of the flower guild of Norwood parish of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase.
Survivors include her husband of 54 years, Russell Weil of Chevy Chase; three children, Hannah Ehrli of Orlando, Nicholas Weil of Atlanta and Ella Garrison of Saline, Mich.; and seven grandchidlren.
Major, of the Maryland Opera Studio, noted that Mrs. Weil was so flexible that she could sit on the floor and wrap her legs around her head.
“She could do the splits at 75,” he said. “She didn’t walk, she floated. She didn’t talk, she sang.”