On a recent Saturday morning, a group of 3- and 4-year-old girls stands in first position with their hands resting on the dance bar at the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center in Baltimore.
Instructor Sharayna Christmas, 25, stands across the room, her fingers poised on the play button of her boom box. She presses the button and Stevie Wonder sings "As."
The girls sing along with the music, all the while making a circle with their arms over their heads.
"You can rest your mind assure," Wonder sings, and they clasp their hands together and rest them under their cheeks. "That I'll be loving you always!"
Then they point toward the imaginary audience.
These are just a few of the children who participate in Rayn Fall Dance Company and School.
Christmas, who grew up in New York, began the dance classes in November 2003 and started the school in January 2004. The school offers different types of classes - from ballet to African dance.
The company and school's name is a combination of her name and what she feels about the rain.
"A lot of people look at rainfall as a negative thing," she says. "But I look at it kind of like a cleansing, a new beginning."
Christmas was trained as a dancer, beginning at 3 years old, with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She has danced with Alvin Ailey II, a junior company of the famed New York-based dance troupe. She has worked with such well-known choreographers such as Geoffrey Holder, Ulysses Dove and Marie Brooks.
As a teenager, however, Christmas decided not to pursue dance as a career because the profession, she believed, was too cutthroat. She received a degree in finance from Morgan State University in 2002.
But the compliance officer and program manager with Citigroup rediscovered her childhood passion while volunteering as a dance teacher at the Druid Hill YMCA.
To start the dance company, she gathered students from Morgan State and Towson universities for auditions. Twenty people came to the first audition, and she whittled that number down to five performers, who now make up her dance troupe.
The company has performed at her alma mater, at last year's grand opening of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, and most recently at last summer's Artscape festival.
Christmas also works with the children and adults who participate in classes at the Eubie Blake Center on North Howard Street.
"Not only do we learn different movements, but Ms. Christmas teaches us that in the future we are going to be African-American women and we should always have our heads up high," says Najah Hameed, a 12-year-old student. "It makes us want to be something."
Recently, Rayn Fall Dance received a grant from the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts to expand in 2007. The company will introduce a weeklong camp that will take students through the African diaspora of dance.
"It is a chance to use history, geography and culture and let [students] know that [art] doesn't have to be separate," says Melani Douglass, the dance school's creative director.
Back in the studio, the young ballerinas are standing in a circle. Christmas asks enthusiastically, "What school do you go to?"
They raise both hands straight up in the air and shout "RAYN," and their fingers begin wiggling as they bring their hands down in simulation of raindrops and shout "FALL." Then they thrust both hands straight up again and shout "DANCE!" before collapsing into giggles.
Rayn Fall Dance Company
Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center, 847 N. Howard St.
Afro-modern dance, belly dance, adult ballet, and salsa and yoga workshops.
Adults, Mondays and Thursdays. Children, Fridays and Saturdays. Children's session starts Jan. 20. Pre-registration through Dec. 10.
Rayn Fall Dance Studio presents "Free to Dance," a community youth program, at 3 p.m. Dec. 17 and an adult performance at 7 p.m. Dec. 17, both at Morgan State University's Turpin-Lamb Theatre, 2201 Argonne Drive. Tickets are $10 ($5 children 12 and younger).
For more information about the classes and the performances, call 410-235-0654 or go to raynfalldance.com.