Using moves that ranged from classical ballet to hip hop, dance students at Glen Burnie High School got the chance to learn at the feet of a professional last week.
"I want you to work on your artistic expression," Shawn Toussaint, a dancer in the repertory ensemble of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, told a group of 21 students. "Give me some attitude. Remember, freedom within discipline. Dance is supposed to be fun. Let me hear some ow's and some ooh's."
Mr. Toussaint, currently performing in "The Nutcracker" with the Maryland Ballet Company, spent two hours Tuesday morning with Glen Burnie's combined level four and five dance class. The 26-year-old dancer took the students through several fast-paced choreographed routines.
Not everyone was up to the challenge, though not for want of trying.
"Wait, can you show us that again?" one young woman asked.
"I can't get that part," another said, exasperated.
But none of the students gave up. Each tried and tried again. But Mr. Toussaint said it wasn't enough.
"You're not having fun," he said. "What can I do to make you have fun? Dance is not to promote self-consciousness. It is to free us. Whether you are doing it good or not is not the issue. You're supposed to have fun."
A native of Nassau, Bahamas, Mr. Toussaint visited the school as a favor to one of the dance students, Jerry Honaker.
Jerry, 18, met Mr. Toussaint last year when he also performed in "The Nutcracker." The two began corresponding and struck up a friendship.
Having worked with Mr. Toussaint, Jerry said he knew a class with the dancer would not be easy.
"When I worked with him before, he wouldn't let me leave until I got it right," Jerry said. "Sometimes I was like, 'Ugh!' But he's really good to work with."
Other students said they enjoyed their lessons with Mr. Toussaint, but were surprised by the fast pace.
"It was very hard," said 17-year-old Tina Long. "But I learned a lot."
Cory McDaniel, also 17, added, "He's fun, and he doesn't intimidate you."
Fifteen-year-old Lisa Richmond said having a teacher who doesn't intimidate is very important to dancers.
"I used to dance with a professional company in Baltimore," Lisa said. Mr. Toussaint's class "was just as hard, but he was more fun to work with."
Mr. Toussaint, who has been dancing for the past 12 years, said he knew he wanted to be a dancer from the age of 6, when he first saw a group of Flamenco dancers.
From Flamenco dancers, Mr. Toussaint moved to disco. He began training professionally at age 17, and soon joined the National Ballet of Cuba.
Admittedly a "happy-go-lucky" guy, Mr. Toussaint said freedom within discipline is his motto.
Dancing "is a lot of hard work," he said. "You have to be dedicated, but still have fun. It's a glorious field.
"Anybody who wants to stick with it should be serious about it. But don't be so serious you lose the fun of it."