One, two. One, two. The teacher snapped her fingers in time to a Scott Joplin rag-turned-waltz. Ten pairs of eyes were fixed on the back of the school auditorium. Ten sets of pointed toes brushed forward, then back.
As the music scratched to an end, 10 bodies froze -- or tried to -- in an array of shaky arabesques.
The dancers trying to steady those arabesques are members of the Fairfax County Modern Dance Company. Selected in auditions early last fall, the company members represent a variety of backgrounds in dance.
Catherine Springer, for instance, describes herself as "only 14," yet she is a member of both the Fairfax City Jazz Company and the Fairfax City Dance Center. She also has danced in productions of "Story Theatre" and "The Wizard of Oz" done by the Fairfax County Children's Theatre.
With more than a year of formal training under her belt, Springer has decided not to concentrate on dance alone.
"I'm not good enough," she says. "I want to be an all-round performer, in music, dance and comdey -- you know, sort of an actress-singer-dancer combination."
Clogging, tap, modern dance "and disco, of course" make up Rosemarie Gardner's dance career. Gardner is 21. Her long blond hair flopped to the floor as she did toe-touches. Right away she mentioned one of her more recent achievements: making the third cut in try-outs for the Dallas Cowboys' cheerleaders.
Carolyn Peters started out with the now-renowned Paul Taylor when he first formed his company 25 years ago. Peters, 43, is a fast talker. In five minutes she can convince a listener that dance in this area has suffered a decline and fall.
Susan Jamieson, the company's instructor, will have Peters' assistance in choreographing recital numbers for the group's concluding production. Jamieson is a delicate, soft-spoken woman. Her smile seems genuine but her manner is distrustful. This may stem from the rocky road of her chosen profession, in which only the best of the brightest succeed, leaving the others to direct amateur dance companies when the opportunity arises.
"I got my masters of fine arts at the University of Utah," Jamieson said.
"And I guess I should mention that I studied and danced at a studio in New York for six years. I also danced with a lot of small experimental companies while I was there."
But jamieson would not belittle the importance of dance companies like this one.
People who believe in art have a need to express themselves," she said. "Very few people get their fill of self-expression from their jobs. But it's hard for dancers to express themselves. A painter can go into a room and paint. But dancers can't do that. They need a large space, other people, lights, music. That's why it's so great that Fairfax provides this opportunity to dance."
The dancer's need for other dancers has inspired Jamieson to put more and more of her time into the Fairfax County group. She conducted a fall workshop outside of the regular classes "to give more continuity" to the company, and she plans more of the same this spring.
The immediate task before the company is to begin shaping the choreography for its final production in April. In addition to the group pieces, Jamieson said she will "encourage the members to choreograph solos for themselves, which is a good way to start learning about choreography."
When practice for the larger numbers starts, the life of the Fairfax County Modern Dance Company will be enlivened considerably. Paul Winter Consort compositions with eagle and wolf sounds will replace the plodding piano waltzes in a piece intended to contrast city and country movement. Improvisations will spin off as dancers imitate people passing each other, robot-like, on freeways and street corners.
As Jamieson is describing the choreography she has envisioned, Peters splits off with some of the dancers she will direct for the April perfomance. The unmistakable strains of "Three Blind Mice" peal out of the record player.
In an aside to Jamieson, a student asks with a note of sarcasm, "Are they going to be dressed as mice for that one?" Jamieson doesn't seem to know.
Peter marches in measured steps across the stage, demonstrating the dance she has planned. She feels the eyes of Jamieson's group on her and turns to face them.
"It's a farce! It's a farce!" she cries.