She fell in love with ballet as a child, as many young girls do, and Susan Savage didn't lack for promise.
She learned her first plies and pirouettes at a feeder school for the Royal Academy of Dance in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
But when she turned 13, her family pulled up roots and moved to West Texas, a part of the world known more for football than for fouettes en tournant (spins with a sideway kick).
"Not exactly a hotbed for my life's passion," she says.
Fifty years later, Savage got a chance to return to the pastime she never got out of her system. That was when the retired Galesville resident enrolled in Ballet 40/60, a class offered at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis for people just like her.
"Whether they're coming back after a long time, rehabilitating an injury or just looking to improve their health or balance, I've found that ballet is an ideal activity for men and women in this age group," says Barbara Owen, 75, who started teaching the course for "middle adults" in 1995 and is just beginning her 17th annual summer sessions.
The class Savage took part in on Monday, Basics II, was made up of 11 women ages 52 to 86. Savage, 65, was serene and elegant, maneuvering through a series of battements (smooth kicks from the knee) and arabesques as the class unfolded.
Others were less sure in their movements — halting and awkward at times.
"Look around," Savage said. "Does not everyone here astound you? They certainly do me."
Afternoon light fills the mirror-walled room, and so does cheerful chatter, as women in black tights — a few in tutus, others in simple leggings or slacks — file in one by one for the first class of the summer session, taking their places along one of three barres.
Basics II — one of four sections of Ballet 40/60 Owen is offering this summer — assumes at least a little prior experience, and because more than half the class has taken a course in this program before, the scene feels like a roomful of students returning to school in September.
The "40" and "60" refer to the general age range, though Owen invites anyone over 40. "I don't card," she says.
Owen, her salt-and-pepper hair stylishly cropped, is a gentle presence at the front of the room, greeting each dancer by name upon entrance, then popping a CD into a boombox.
The piano tune that flows forth — "Atmospheric Stretching Music," from an instructional album by New York dance instructor Finis Jhung — is peaceful and evocative, an apt background for supporting the early goals of the class: loosening the muscles and refamiliarizing them with the form's fundamental moves.
"For the most part, we're just getting ourselves back to thinking about basic positions, basic balance, basic turns," says Savage, who like many in the room hasn't danced in six weeks — since the previous Maryland Hall session came to an end.
Facing the mirror up front, instructor Owen rotates her torso upward in a smooth spiral fashion, extending an arm upward as she completes the move.
The class follows suit, some almost perfectly, others in a herky-jerky fashion.
Ballet class for seniors shows power of the pirouette
Older dancers find a fountain of youth in Barbara Owen's 'Ballet 40/60'
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