RYAN TAYLOR finds a corner in a room crowded with slender male and female dancers wearing rainbow colors of body-hugging leotards, skin-tight leggings and tattered satin dance slippers. Next to a wall mirror and a wooden balance rail, amid the yells and claps of ballet master Janek Schergen Glenecke, Taylor quietly does sweeping port de bras, delicate upsweeps of the arms around his chest and face.
Standing at 6 feet and wearing size 11 shoes, he is agile and graceful, his motions fluid and silky. It's the last rehearsal until a three-hour afternoon break, but Taylor, dressed in a blue leotard and white tights, the threads of his trade, is concentrated in his work.
These days, the good-natured, 24-year-old Baltimore native has found home -- or something close to it -- at the Washington Ballet, headquartered at Porter and Wisconsin streets in northwest D.C.
"It's a lot of hard work here," said Taylor, sitting comfortably and wearing blue jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers during rehearsal break. "I'm satisfied. I see myself here for a long time."
Finally. After years of traveling cross-country to study at New York's Joffrey Ballet School, the San Francisco Ballet School and Chicago's School of the American Ballet, he's settling down.
"It's ironic my cards spilled out in D.C.," Taylor said.
Not really. With his family rooted in Baltimore -- his mother in Park Heights, his brother a city police officer and his sister working for social security administration in Woodlawn -- he was bound to come back.
He'll be back, in fact, for a dance performance tomorrow and Saturday at the Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College. He's scheduled to dance the lead in tomorrow's performance of Choo-San Goh's "Unknown Territory," a 27-minute exotic dance about a tribal marriage ceremony.
Ask Taylor, reared in a traditional Catholic working-class family, why he chose to study ballet and he rattles off a list of reasons: the challenge, the beauty, the work. But Taylor, who seeks the limelight at family gatherings and barbecues, wanted to be different. He didn't want to be a jazz or modern dancer, he said, because there were too many popular black males in the field already.
"There weren't many black ballet dancers," he said. "And aesthetically, ballet touched me the most. It hit me when I saw the soft lines and the curving bodies."
As one of the ballet world's few black male dancers, Taylor finds himself in a special place -- one he covets. "I may not be perfect, but I'm special," he said. "To celebrate that difference is what keeps you going."
At 14, he slipped into his first pair of soft-heeled slippers for evening adult ballet classes at the Community College of Baltimore. For a high school freshman and a wannabe dancer stuck at the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute -- an engineering- and mathematics-dominated school -- ballet class was the highlight.
"Getting on a bus to take ballet class was a joy," he said. "I said to myself, 'This is my destiny. I'm getting in.' "
Getting in meant earning a spot at the Baltimore School for the Arts, where he would be able to concentrate and hone his dancing. He auditioned, got in, worked harder and took extra classes to catch up with his peers.
"Although he was very talented and one could see that, he was in a stage where he was just learning some fundamentals," said David Simon, director of the school for the arts. "He's done very well. We've had great success with our young men."
Taylor is one of many the school's alums who have made it big in the dance world. Others include Keith Thomas, principle dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem; Joseph Patrick, with the Hubbard Dance Theater; and Wesley Johnson and Stephen Smith, both with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre.
Baltimore is bubbling with talent, Taylor said.
"Going [to the School for the Arts] made me realize Baltimore has great well and wealth of creative resources," he said. "The Baltimoreans survive."
The Washington Ballet in Baltimore performs at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday at the Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College. Tickets are $22 and are available by phone or at door one hour before performance. Call 225-3131.