The master class is under way and Stephen Greenston roams through the small dance studio, his eyes intent on finding tiny flaws in the students' posture and technique.
"Back straight!" Greenston yells. "Watch the feet!"
He walks over to a young pupil who is dressed in the traditional uniform of black leotard and pink tights and places his hand on her back. "Arms this way," he says as he stretches his own arm out gracefully to his side.
Greenston, a former principal dancer for the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany and a recent guest choreographer for the Washington Ballet, came to the Aesthetics Dance studio in Ellicott City Monday to teach this one-day-only master class, a time-honored tradition for students and respected arts performers and teachers.
Greenston's professional relationship with the studio will soon grow when they combine efforts on a work that could help Aesthetics Dance and the Howard County Ballet finally cement their places in the local arts scene.
Early next year, the ballet star will choreograph "Alice in Wonderland" for the Howard County Ballet, founded four years ago by Kathi Ferguson, who owns and directs the Aesthetics Dance studio. Ferguson trained at the National Ballet of Washington and is a dance teacher at Goucher College in Towson.
The company put on a well-received production of "The Nutcracker" last year. But getting the ballet company up and running has been a challenge and seems especially difficult in a suburban county such as Howard, Ferguson says.
Washington and Baltimore have respected and well-funded ballet companies, making it harder for a small company to get on its feet.
"It's been very trying these past few years," Ferguson said while sitting in the waiting room of the Aesthetics studio. "In the past two years, a number of dance studios have opened up in the county and that's hurt business here. But finding money to run and support a professional ballet company is very hard."
Ferguson estimates that it would take at least $100,000 a year to keep 12 dancers on salary. A large production like "Alice in Wonderland," with its original choreography and score to be performed by a live orchestra, will be an expensive undertaking.
Ferguson is planning a gala April 25 at Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia, the proceeds of which will help pay for the production.
Last year, Howard County Ballet received nonprofit status, which allows company organizers to receive state funds and grants. Being a nonprofit "gives us the ability to offer more to the community and also to advertise more freely," Ferguson said.
The ballet company also allows child and adult students to perform with professional dancers. Students are given skill-appropriate roles for each performance and many of the teachers who work at Aesthetics also perform.
One of the benefits of having a master dancer like Greenston teach a class is letting students meet and see how a professional practices and carries himself, said 12-year-old Ben Cramer, an Aesthetics dancer who took up ballet two years ago.
"It's cool to see how he works," said Ben, of Mayfield Woods Middle School. "He has a lot of energy and he's fun to learn from."
Greenston's master class in Ellicott City was the second such class he has taught at the Aesthetics studio, but the strong, lanky dancer has taught master classes around the world.
"The language of ballet [French] is the same everywhere, so you can teach in China, Japan, Germany or the States," he said. "The impact that you can have in one class is to be able to inspire them, to get them to see things in a slightly different way.
"Your teacher tells you the same thing day in and day out," Greenston said. "But a new voice can say something that just clicks, and you understand it in a new way."
As the students stood at the barre, Greenston ended his class with a reminder to the young dancers to dance safely as well as expressively.
"Let's have fun!" he said loudly and with a smile. "Dancing should look like it's coming from your heart."
Call the Howard County Ballet at 410-465-8233 for tickets to the spring gala at the Jim Rouse Theatre.
Pub Date: 2/18/99