2005-08-12 / Community

Kids Have A Ball Learning To Dance

By Alyssa Goldstein

Students participate in the Colors of the Rainbow Team Match held at the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center.Students participate in the Colors of the Rainbow Team Match held at the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center. It’s a familiar scene: A parent or grandparent sees a child watching a bump-and-grind music video with sweaty, scantily clad performers and they lament the death of dancing and tradition.

“That’s not dancing,” the adult says with memories of ball gowns, bow ties and classic songs playing in their minds. Perplexed, the child stares back at the T.V. and nudges the volume up a notch.

Moms, dads and grands may take heart in a growing in-school program that teaches kids how to swing, rumba and waltz – and that dancing shouldn’t necessarily make onlookers blush.

Dancing Classrooms, a project of the not-for-profit American Ballroom Theater Company, is a 10-week series of 45 to 50-minute classes, held twice a week.

The program was developed in 1994 by fellow dancers and teachers, Pierre Dulaine and Yvonne Marceau. Children learn “the basic vocabularies and rhythms” of the rumba, merengue and swing, ballroom dances such as the waltz, fox trot and tango, and “fun dances” like the heel-toe polka, Electric Slide, Macarena and The Stomp.

Starting out with one school in Manhattan, it now teaches more than 7,000 fourth, fifth and sixth grade students in 68 schools throughout New York City.

“Kids love it! It’s wonderful and if I only could choose one program to have in the school this would be it,” exclaimed Dianne Gounardes, Arts Director at Public School 170, of the Dancing Classrooms Program.

Along with learning the steps of the dances, children develop an understanding of the history and culture behind the moves.

One of the main goals of Dancing Classrooms is helping students to achieve self-awareness and build up their self-esteem. Ellen Connelly, a teacher with the program told The Wave that through dance “these children learn what they need socially to survive, such as how to address people and cooperate.” Many of the students even begin to emulate their teachers’ dress codes, skirts for women and shirts and ties for men.

Although not all students welcome this opportunity, “the first two weeks are usually met with some resistance,” Connelly explained, but after two weeks “the students really begin to enjoy dancing.”

Dancing Classrooms has managed to have an impact on students’ behavior. “Respect your old culture but fit into a new one,” is an idea that teachers have been trying to instill in the children said Connelly. Dancing is even breaking down cultural barriers since some of the schools where this Program is being utilized, such as Public School 105 in Brooklyn, where 75 percent of students are Asian.

Also, the program has had an effect on learning abilities. Classes are not only about dance, but are integrated with other subjects such as English and even math. “Dancing is a full brain activity, it combines the left and right hemispheres so as to achieve a high learning capacity,” said Connelly. Test scores have improved, and in fact, many teachers have been moving their hardest lessons until after the dancing classes.

The most surprising thing may be that the dancing doesn’t stop once Dancing Classrooms leaves. Many students continue to competitions, such as The Colors of the Rainbow Team Match. And now it has moved onto the big screen.

“Mad Hot Ballroom,” a documentary follows 11 New York City public school kids trying to win a ballroom dancing competition. The film, which premiered on May 13 and was shown at the TriBeCa Film Festival has been a hit among critics like Ebert and Roeper who give the film “two thumbs up.” It has been extended to stay in theaters three times and has won numerous awards.

“I have been trying to get more schools involved,” said Connelly, “the children could really benefit.” Connelly advises schools that are interested to make inquiries as soon as possible through the website www.American BallroomTheater.com because this dancing program is no longer warming up, it’s mad hot.

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