ANNAPOLIS -- When an early snowstorm hit last month, most of Grace Clark's dance students stayed home. But the 75-year-old teacher went ahead and held class for the one student who showed up.
"Most dance teachers would have canceled," Clark said. "Imagine teaching to just one girl, but I guess I'm a little crazy. If they make the effort to get here, I'm going to give them a lesson."
Ordinarily, Clark keeps up a heavy schedule with as many as five classes a day. She has taught dance in Annapolis for 40 years and is not about to slow down.
"I do all the steps," she said, "as I always have."
Other ballet teachers her age generally have "demonstrators," young dancers who show the steps and positions to the class while the teacher stands firmly with a cane tapping out the time.
Not so with Clark. She lithely moves across the floor holding her head high, dressed in a pastel leotard with a matching skirt. Her hair is pulled back in a low dancer's bun.
This time of year, the dance studio attached to her home in the city's historic district is filled with racks of costumes for the upcoming production of "The Nutcracker Suite." The chiffon gowns of lilac, salmon, aqua and green were designed, and in many cases made, by Clark.
"I cut them out and sewed them from the finest fabrics," she said. "They're all washable because I wanted them to be practical."
For 22 years, Clark has been producing and directing performances of "The Nutcracker Suite" each holiday season.
The first of six performances, with a cast of about 75 dancers, was last weekend at the Annapolis High School, where the 500-seat auditorium often has been filled for past shows. The performances this year will continue into January.
Clark and her husband Ellery have lived in Annapolis since 1930, when he took a job teaching English history and government at the Naval Academy.
Although he is now retired, Ellery Clark keeps busy writing and following his boyhood baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. He is the team's official historian.
The couple lives in a white clapboard Victorian house that is furnished with antiques that have been passed down through their families.
A professional dancer and teacher before her marriage, Clark reestablished her teaching career in her midthirties, after her children were in school here.
She studied in England for several summers to become certified as a ballet instructor in the Cechetti school of ballet, which is used by the British Royal Ballet.
Clark's devotion to dance and to students interested in dance helped her break some racial barriers in Annapolis many years ago.
After arriving from Boston, she was struck by the segregation in Annapolis, including the practice of making blacks sit in the back of the bus.
"It just isn't right, not to treat everyone equally," she said.
But Clark was determined that all children should have the benefit of dance.
She recalled that by the late 1940s, she was the first white teacher in the city to accept a black student and said she taught once a week at the black YMCA until it was integrated.
When she is showing people around her studio, Clark has a habit of squeezing those she likes in the upper arms while she talks, just to make certain they are listening.
It's a habit she may have acquired from years of adjusting the poses and postures of her students.
"Make certain you're standing straight," she frequently directs her students.
"And don't forget to look at yourself in the mirror."
Some of the students said that Clark's direction has had a big impact on their lives.
Diana Caplan, a 13-year-old from Arnold, has been studying with Clark for 10 years.
Diana, who has one of the three female leads in "The Nutcracker" this year, has high praise for Clark.
"She helped me know who I am," Diana said. "You learn how to know yourself though dance and performance. When you present yourself to the public, you have to look inside yourself first. Mrs. Clark knows that."
Sixteen-year-old Maureen Byrnes of Annapolis, a ballet student for seven years, said she enjoys Clark's teaching "because of the way she gives corrections. She doesn't make you feel bad about your mistakes, but she helps you."
Julie Simmons, a second-year student from Crofton, put it simply: "She's nice and patient."