From eager kid to master artist. Once he'd glimpsed the world of dance, Ralph Glenmore never looked back

EVEN sitting down, Ralph Glenmore is in perpetual motion. He tips the chair back during an interview, leans forward, or sits on the very edge like a schoolboy who's been asked to stay inside from recess. Mr. Glenmore got his first taste of the world of theater and dance via Washington, D.C., community programs, which are designed, as he says, ``to keep you off the street.'' A laugh ripples through his sentence. ``I signed up for everything.''

Then a young set designer, Glenmore says he used to slip into theaters on the sly and even admits a certain familiarity with the basement and elevators of Washington's Kennedy Center. ``We used to sneak in theaters, hide in the broom closet, and come out and sit in the box seat.''

Having graced the productions of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for the last six years, Glenmore is now rehearsing - dancing, acting, and singing - in ``Down to Earth,'' a new musical comedy by Donald Mykayle, the director-choreographer of ``Sophisticated Ladies'' fame.

The show - scheduled to open in April - allows its actors in on the creative process, and, Glenmore comments, makes for a ``broader experience.''

``I now have a whole different family - all actors, singers, and dancers,'' he says.

Glenmore was standing in line at the grocery store with his mother when he first decided to audition for a Washington theater and dance company.

And as he tells it, his audition and acceptance into the company were as effortless as his decision. ``That's when I saw dancers and singers and set design and lights and plays and rehearsals and all. ... I was `hooked.'''

When the company helped launch what would become Washington's Duke Ellington High School for Arts, Glenmore, then a college freshman, asked if he could study dance with it. ``They let me come in and learn for free..., and I learned really fast.''

His debut came in a later opera production, when the eager but inexperienced Glenmore was given signs to carry and sets to change.

His dark eyes light up as he describes the opening number. ``It was so good! The dancers would all just crawl in and reach up, so I would just crawl in, too. I wasn't supposed to do that, but I wanted to be one of the dancers so bad.''

This derring-do helped land him a bigger part in the show - and later, when he decided to audition for the Juilliard School in New York. ``Everyone was trying to get into Juilliard,'' he says, throwing his hands up. ``So I said, let me try it.''

So with youthful aplomb - or naivet'e, depending on how you look at it - Glenmore headed to New York for his audition.

``I had to sleep on a park bench and wait until the next morning, because I couldn't get a hotel. Right in front of Lincoln Center, I was there on this bench, and the bums were right there, too.''

But his determination paid off and landed him a spot at Juilliard.

Nowadays, the slender, energetic dancer hardly needs to crawl on stage to get attention. His dance credits include such Broadway shows as Bob Fosse's ``Dancin,''' and ``A Chorus Line.''

He was originally drawn to the nearly all-black Alvin Ailey company because of one number in the company's repertoire: ``Revelations.'' A signature Ailey piece, it celebrates a particular blending of jazz, modern, and ethnic dance forms, performed to Negro spirituals.

But when asked if the company speaks about black America, Glenmore takes hold of his nearly Grace Jones, flattop hair and drags his head back a little in concentration as he speaks. He prefers to talk of dance in terms of energy.

Glenmore's meanings are conveyed through body language as much as through spoken word. He has the open gestures, the sweeping hand motions, and the expressive face that come with years of stage training.

And he has a certain quality of childlike glee, an almost wide-eyed attitude, that says, ``I can't believe this is me giving an interview.''

Glenmore has seen his dream come true, but he still sees each dance as a personal challenge to share his inspiration and love for art, music, and the theater.

``There's a child out there, and this is their first introduction, and I have to be the best, to give them a good first impression, that's my responsibility, 'cause there's somebody out there just like me'' - wanting to dance.

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