A story in last week's Maryland Weekly about tap-dancer Miriam Sellers incorrectly called the Holiday Park Multi-Service Senior Center a nursing home. The center is not a residential facility.(Published 12/ 20/90)

The sound system was a portable tape recorder, and there was no sign of a lighting crew, but tap-dancer Miriam Sellers looked every inch the professional.

And well she should have. Sellers, 70, has been dancing since 1922 and performing professionally since the years of the Great Depression. Last year, she was named Ms. Senior Maryland 1990, and she tapped her way to first place in the talent competition of the Ms. Senior USA contest last spring.

In her recent performance at Holiday Park nursing home in Wheaton, Sellers, a Gaithersburg resident, tapped, shimmied and twirled with the agility of a teenager. Her perfect lipstick, her smile and the coy glances she threw to the audience recalled her pre-World War II performances in church halls and theaters up and down the East Coast.

Since retiring from the professional tap circuit, Sellers spends her time teaching other seniors the moves she perfected over the decades. The lessons, and the performances she organizes for a troupe of her peers, have been credited with improving the seniors' emotional and physical well-being.

"Seeing someone who stands up there and says, 'I'm 70 years old,' and has a body I wish I'd had 40 years ago . . . she really is just a wonderful role model," said Helen Abrahams, program director at Holiday Park.

At a performance at Holiday Park this fall, the assembled sexto-, septo- and octogenarians showed their appreciation for Sellers with hearty applause -- and murmurs of astonishment when she announced that she and her dancers range in age from 59 to 82.

"If we can do it, so can you," Sellers said, flashing a bright red smile. "It's like riding a bicycle. If you've ever danced before, it all comes right back."

Born in Georgetown in 1920 to ballroom dance instructors Della and Ray Ehrmantraut, Sellers started tap-dancing at age 2. She began performing with her brother, Ed, when she was 12, and the duo danced their way through theaters, music halls and churches on the East Coast during the 1930s.

In 1932, Sellers performed for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt at the 72nd Congressional Club, a Depression-era gathering place for high-ranking government officials.

She married Garland Sellers in 1938, soon after opening her own dance studio in Georgetown. When the couple moved to Wheaton in 1950, Sellers took her tap shoes with her. She ran the Sellers Studio of Dance on the corner of Viers Mill Road and Gail Street for 38 years, teaching tap, jazz and modern dance to generations of mothers and daughters.

Along the way, Sellers taught her three daughters to dance, and they have kept up their mother's tradition: Dawn Crafton teaches in Rockville, Gaithersburg and Aspen Hill; Denise Shores gives classes in Gaithersburg and Wheaton. And the youngest, Diane Herbert, operates a studio in Dunkirk.

"As soon as they can walk, we teach them to dance," Sellers said.

Sellers's seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren were also raised in the family tradition.

Granddaughter Kelly Crafton, 30, is studying in New York and has danced in the chorus of "42nd Street" on Broadway. Another granddaughter, Vickie Herbert, 27, teaches with her mother at the Dunkirk studio.

Sellers closed her Wheaton studio in 1988, at age 68, and turned her attention to her peers. The idea of teaching tap to seniors came when a group of her younger pupils performed at an area nursing home, she said.

"One of the ladies in the audience said, 'I've wanted to {dance} all my life,' " Sellers recalled. "So I thought, 'Why not?' "

Sellers now teaches two weekly classes at Holiday Park and one at nearby Randolph Hills Nursing Home. Her 37 senior citizen proteges perform regularly at nursing homes and community centers.

Elizabeth Hencken, a 67-year-old grandmother from Potomac who was one of Sellers's first Holiday Park pupils, said the lessons are the culmination of a lifelong dream.

"I was a poor city kid, and I just never had the opportunity," Hencken said. "Miriam opened the door."

The high-rise apartment in Gaithersburg that Miriam and Garland Sellers moved into two years ago is an unofficial shrine to Sellers's career.

Dozens of pictures, newspaper clippings, dancing awards and letters of commendation dot the walls. Several photos show her as a young girl, sporting paper-wrapped curls and the same Cheshire cat smile she bestowed on the Holiday Park audience. Other photographs show her as a young woman, dancing during a brief stint with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.

In the center of it all sits a huge portrait of Sellers at age 70, wearing the red-and-white sash that proclaims, "Ms. Senior Maryland, 1990." It is a title she is particularly proud of, and she wears the sash to most performances.

As Ms. Senior Maryland, Sellers this year traveled to Annapolis to have lunch with Gov. William Donald Schaefer ("He's a wonderful fellow, just real down to earth," she said) and rode in one of the lead convertibles in this year's Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade.

But Miriam Sellers and her family are about more than awards, titles and mementos.

Since Sellers's grandson, Chris Crafton, was killed in a 1984 private plane crash shortly before his 21st birthday, the clan has raised more than $90,000 for the trauma unit at Children's Hospital in Washington.

"Chris always was good with kids, so we wanted to do something" for the hospital, Sellers said.

Sellers pooh-poohs the image of herself as a do-gooder and insists that she enjoys the dance lessons as much as her pupils do. The classes augment her daily workouts, which last about 90 minutes, and give her a change of pace from dancing at her daughters' studios, which she does once or twice a week.

"Working with the seniors has been a very good outlet for her creativity," Dawn Crafton said of her mother. "She's worked her whole life. I just don't think she could sit around and knit all day. She loves to perform. It's what she's always done."

Sellers says she has no plans to retire from dancing, although she gave up splits and backbends about three years ago.

"The tap and jazz doesn't bother me; I just don't do the acrobatics I used to," she said, adding, "I can still do my high kicks, though."