What Papian is doing, in effect, is exemplifying the benefits of dance to those who practice it, especially in their senior years.

She, too, started dancing as a child, growing up in St. Louis during the Depression. Somehow, she says, her school district managed to keep free dance lessons in the budget, and she always excelled.

Papian, too, moved to a part of the country that was less rich in dance, and except for teaching younger people, she let the talent languish.

Until, that is, she heard about the first class Owen offered. That was when she took dance up again, at 72. Except for a brief period when she was sidelined by an injury, she has kept at it uninterrupted.

The reasons are many. She's married to a man in his 90s whose balance has faltered, and she's certain ballet will help her avoid that particular effect of aging. She loves the social contact. It's fun.

All told, it enhances youth.

"I don't know if this is true, but I read somewhere that there have been very few, if any, professional dancers to develop Alzheimer's disease," says Papian, who wears an ankle brace to hold together her left ankle, which suffers from permanent tears to the tendons.

Age and injury notwithstanding, Owen never misses a chance to praise Papian's exceptional form.

"Laverne is like anyone else in that as she gets older, she develops more limitations," the instructor says. "I know that frustrates her. But — did you see those beautiful feet?"

Being regal

Every ballet class draws on one or more formalized approaches — the Vaganova (Russian Imperial) method, for example, which stresses a precise, sequential form of teaching, or the Cecchetti method, which emphasizes awareness of the anatomy and aims at internalization of the basic moves.

Owen makes use of both but also weaves in the more recent teaching principles of Jhung, a longtime dancer who, upon retiring, spent many hours breaking down film of the world's greatest ballet performers.

The conclusion he came to — that every move in dance corresponds with an equal, countervailing move elsewhere — is uniquely suited to mature students.

"It's about balance," Owen says. "It's a cerebral approach, a little too much for kids, but grown-ups really take to it."

At times. As the instructor puts away the barres, breaks the class into smaller groups and demonstrates combinations that will bring them from one end of the room to the other, some of the newer students get a little turned around.

"How did I end up facing this way?" asks a frustrated Monica Keen of Crownsville, already nervous about taking a class higher than Basics I for the first time.

A classmate, Debbie Kirk of Upper Marlboro, stumbles a bit, then stops short. "You would come [to watch] on the first day!" she says to an onlooker.

Owen's response is to break this succession of movements down into their individual stages, and to do it with carefully placed good humor.

"Everybody knows the first arabesque, right?" Owen says, striking a 3/4 pose in front of the mirror and gazing over her shoulder. "Well, [reverse] it, and you have a fourth arabesque. Just an interesting piece of information."

She then describes the moves as a single motion.