Jamison Johnson's classmates said it was the 8-year-old's crush on dancer Marilyn Banks that gave him the courage to get up on stage with six members of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre.
But Jamison, whose previous close encounter with live dance was attending a concert by rap star Hammer, raised his hand to participate in a dance program yesterday at school because "I thought it would be interesting. . . . They have good techniques, like for stretching your bones."
The third-grader at Bedford Elementary in northwest Baltimore County was one of about 400 students who were invited to see members of the internationally acclaimed African-American dance company perform at Milford Mill High School. The dance troupe last year moved to Maryland for a three-year residency of teaching and performing.
Students from Milford, selected by teachers for their interest in the performing arts and participation in multicultural classes, were joined by children from neighboring Bedford and Scotts Branch elementaries and Old Court Middle School. Many were attending their first dance performance.
"We're trying to do a couple of things," said Belva Scott, a board member of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre Foundation of Maryland Inc.
"Expose these young people to the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, and to dance -- period," she said. "They get to see young people they can relate to. . . . They get to experience the commitment and, more importantly, discipline."
"We're trying to expose the students not just to the group, but also to the whole genre, the whole idea of dance and expressing self through some medium other than writing or speaking," English teacher Cheryl Pasteur said.
This is the second year the dancers are performing in schools through the Maryland foundation's Outreach Program, which last year enabled performances to be held in about 40 schools around the state.
This year, budget cuts have forced the foundation to reduce the troupe's number of appearances, but Executive Director Marsha Reeves said schools have been asked to invite students from the surrounding area to increase the number of children exposed to the performances.
Dancers yesterday performed excerpts from a ballet that depicted the black man's struggle to leave the South and the struggle of women.
The dancers perform in schools, retirement homes and jails as much as possible while on tour, dancer Sarita Allen said. Exposing individuals to dance was one of the founder's dreams, she said.
The Alvin Ailey dancers will perform at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre tomorrow through Sunday. Tickets to performances by the 29-member company are $27 to $40. Call 625-4230.