Nineteen forty-eight was a good year for dance teacher Helen E. Moore.
It was the year she gave birth to both the National Ballet Company and her daughter, Pamela. Both deliveries yielded tremendous creative output, together sustaining the oldest professional ballet company in Maryland.
Today, Pamela Moore, who has been artistic director of the company since the mid-1970s, is the force behind the company's dual productions of "The Nutcracker," one performed to the original Tchaikovsky score, the other to the music of Duke Ellington.
"I was born into this," Pamela Moore said, standing in the company's rehearsal space in a Crofton office park. Her blond hair is pulled back in an elaborate chignon, her slender dancer's body clothed in a green jumper and a frilly white blouse.
She watches Caryline Lehman, who plays the Sugar Rum Cherry in the performance set to Ellington's music, saunter across the black-topped floor, swiveling her hips during a sexy, saucy solo. The other dancers hoot and whistle at Lehman's sensual interpretation.
"Remember, this is a ballet company," Moore said, delighted by the dancers' burst of energy. "Who says ballet dancers have to be boring?"
Throughout a life devoted to dance, Moore has sought to change the misconceptions about it. Moore grew up in Clinton and began dancing with her mother at age 3; by 16, she was performing professionally with the company. By the time she graduated from Surrattsville High School in 1967, she had performed at President Lyndon B. Johnson's White House, with the Washington Opera and as a guest artist with companies all over the nation.
After studying dance at the University of Maryland for three years, Moore left for New York to dance with a now-defunct ballet company, the Harkness. During that year in the big city, she learned some unpleasant lessons about the world of dance.
"At that time, dancers were treated as if they were just bodies," she said, adding that they were often subjected to emotional and even physical abuse.
"I wanted to work with dancers and really try to develop their love for the art of dance. It's a hard life, and you don't make much money. It takes a lot to make sure you don't take the love of the art away."
Barely into her twenties, Moore moved back to Prince George's County, got married and took over the artistic direction of her mother's company. She also finished her degree in dance, adding a double major in music at the University of Maryland.
"I felt the more I can understand about music, the more I can understand about movement," she explains.
The company's school has thrived since its founding, counting among its alumni Tim Cronin, a director of the Atlanta Ballet, and Kimmary Williams, who started the Miami Ballet's dance school and now is an instructor with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's school. Today, the National Ballet has about 100 students.
The Moores incorporated as a professional performing group in 1974. Since then, Helen Moore has retained the official title of director, but Pamela Moore has done all the choreography and handled most of the company's day-to-day operations.
The company brings in professional dancers from across the country for an average of 22 performances a year. Pamela Moore performed with the dancers until last year, when she says age and family commitments began to slow her down.
In addition to her husband and 16- and 21-year-old daughters, Moore also cares for two young people from abroad. Five years ago, the Moores took in Natasha Nedrenets, from the Ukraine and, more recently, a Vietnamese man named Duong Vo.
Vo will be the subject of Pamela Moore's next production, "Ga Trong Con" or "The Little Rooster," which is based on his life story. The company plans to present it as a work-in-progress in May, and it will have its official premiere in 2001.
Despite her own early start, Moore now questions whether a 3-year-old can truly study dance. But she maintains that, at 5, after two years of playing in her mother's studio, she knew "that this is what I wanted to do with my life."
Future prekindergarten dancing dynamos won't come from the National Ballet School.
"We don't take children that young," she says. "We start them at 4 1/2."
The National Ballet Company performs "The Ellington Nutcracker" today and tomorrow at 10 a.m. and Friday at 7:30 p.m. The company performs "The Nutcracker" on Friday and Monday through Dec. 22 at 10:30 a.m.; Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Prince George's Community College, Hallam Theater, Queen Anne Fine Arts Building, 301 Largo Rd., Largo. Tickets are $15-25. For information, call 301-218-9822.
CAPTION: Caryline Lehman rehearses for "The Ellington Nutcracker," one of two Nutcracker productions of the National Ballet. The company, which began in 1948, has 100 students.
CAPTION: Pamela Moore, National Ballet artistic director, says that at age 5, she knew "that this is what I wanted to do with my life."