At the County Ballet School in Bel Air, professional dancer Stefan Zubal stood in front of six teen-age ballerinas and asked them why they dance on pointe.
The girls stared down at their pointe shoes, the blocked slippers that allow them to stand on the tips of their toes, and giggled. No one answered.
"It creates the illusion of flight, of suspension. It should look effortless," explained Zubal. With that, he started the music and the young dancers followed his lead, rising onto their toes and trying to make it look easy.
The local ballerinas were taking part in a weeklong clinic, featuring instruction from three professional dancers who got their start at County Ballet, owned and run by Pam Lauer.
The program, run by Lauer's three former students and two other professionals, was aimed at intermediate to advanced dancers. It ran July 25 through Friday, and was the second of what Lauer hopes will become an annual event.
Lauer says she started the clinic because many dancers want to attend summer camps or programs, but find them to be too expensive.
"I wanted to have a program offering just as high quality for a lot less money," she said.
The clinic cost $225.
In addition to Zubal, who currently dances in Indiana, Sara Dimmick and Veronique Redican came home to Harford to teach at the clinic. Both women took Lauer's instruction from Bel Air to the Big Apple, where both have been dancing professionally for years.
"I wanted to come back and show the students how you can progress beyond County Ballet into a professional career. It's good for them to see where it can take them," said Dimmick, who also taught at last year's clinic and was a student of Lauer's from age 4 until she was 18.
County Ballet is a technique school, which means the students do not have recitals. Instead of spending the year working on one performance, instructors focus entirely on teaching students the fundamentals of dance.
Although Redican is primarily a modern dancer, she believes that learning ballet with Lauer helped lay the groundwork for her professional career.
"It's the discipline that I got here and the focus that really helped me to take advantage of everything that I learned later," said Redican, who studied with Lauer from sixth grade until the end of high school.
About a dozen girls attended the clinic, and all received personal evaluation and instruction on several types of dance, including ballet, jazz, modern and lyrical.
Lauer said the clinic allows students to experience different styles of dance, as well as get advice from different teachers.
Emily Lubjeto, 12, is a student of Lauer's and was back for the clinic's second year.
"I like seeing all the kinds of dances that they do in New York," said Lubjeto. She added that although she enjoyed learning modern at the clinic, she is still most interested in ballet.
Katie Webster and Amanda Fisher, both 16, were also back for the second year. Both would like to pursue careers in dance, although they know it will be a challenge.
The girls thought it was "encouraging" to work with three dancers from Bel Air who are now professionals.
"It lets you see how they made it, and they tell you what you need to work on, which can help you get started in a career," said Webster.
In addition to giving lessons, Lauer prepares her dancers for performance in the Part Two Dance Company. Redican, Dimmick and Zubal all performed with Part Two when they were younger.
The company, which is funded mainly through donations, takes to the stage at malls, libraries and nursing homes, and has also performed at the John Archer School for the disabled.
Lauer uses swing music to appeal to nursing home residents, and always tries to get the students at John Archer involved in the performance.
"I make sure the girls know that they're not going in there just to dance and leave. They're going in there to say hello and meet these people," said Lauer.
While Lauer helps the girls reach out to the community through Part Two, she makes sure her school remains disciplined and dedicated to classical training.
"After all, this is a 500-year- old art form," she said.
Lauer begins lessons as early as age 4. At that age, young dancers begin learning the very basics of rhythm and movement, although she also takes time to encourage their imagination and play games.
But not all County Ballet students start so young. Lauer gave Zubal his first lesson when he was 18 - an old age to begin a professional dance career.
Since then, Zubal has studied at the Washington Ballet and danced with the Richmond Ballet, and is now an assistant artistic director for the Fort Wayne Ballet.
According to Zubal, his unexpected success is because of Lauer.
"I really do feel that I owe her everything. She's such a good teacher. I kept hearing as I moved from school to school that I had a good foundation, which means that I had a good teacher in the beginning," said Zubal.
With's Lauer's help, Zubal said, "I found the classical dancer inside myself."