By Aaron Blevins, 3/15/2012
Students Learn Much More Than Ballroom Dancing
As it turns out, young people can achieve maturity by simply following a couple steps — such as a heel turn or lock step.
West Hollywood Elementary School fifth-grade students certainly grew up a little last Friday, when they participated in the school’s first-ever Ballroom Dancing Extravaganza. The event was the culmination of a 10-week, 20-session program by Dancing Classrooms Los Angeles, an organization that aims to improve the character of young people through dance.
“The program is amazing. They’re very smart the way they teach it,” said Rachel Quaintance, of Friends of West Hollywood, the parent organization that brought the program to the school.
With their parents, loved ones and peers in the audience, the students were introduced by “Miss Nicki” Krafcheck, one of Dancing Classrooms’ four teaching artists. She said the 38 participants — 24 gentlemen and 14 ladies — had been working diligently, learning dances from Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and New York. Although there had been an imbalance of males and females, the boys had worked well with their ghost partners, “Miss Shakira” or “Miss J-Lo”, Krafcheck said.
“They came together, and they are such a team,” she told the audience. “Ten weeks ago, it was ew, ew.”
The students performed the rumba, waltz, merengue, tango, fox trot and swing. For each, a student would give a brief explanation of the dance, two students would demonstrate it and then half of the class would show off their moves. The class was separated into two teams.
Anna Payton and Edwin Reyes demonstrated the rumba; Chloe Makabeh and Brandon Bassey performed the waltz; Alexa Kendell and Kevin Roman, the merengue; Tyra Mai and Christopher Reyes, the tango; Galaxia Miller and Zia Rice, the fox trot; and Victoria Ortega and Seth Rannie, the swing.
At the end of the program, they performed a more modern dance, “The Stomp”, and then the Macarena. The students also gave a bouquet of flowers to Miss Nicky.
Brandon Bassey’s parents, Patricia and Kevin, said their son had enjoyed learning the various types of dance at West Hollywood Elementary School, though he had only taken one hip-hop class prior.
“He loves it,” Patricia Bassey said. “I used to watch ‘Dancing With the Stars’, and he would complain. I don’t think I’ll have any problems now.”
Kevin Bassey said Brandon, who is more of an athlete and musician, is tall and has big feet; therefore, the program has helped improve his balance. However, it has also helped him become more of a performer.
“He’s a ham,” Kevin Bassey said. “He’s not shy any more.”
Such developments are the reasoning behind the program, said Dancing Classrooms Los Angeles executive director Sophia Chang. She said the program, which was started in New York in 1994 and recently launched in Los Angeles, teaches respect and confidence while promoting diversity and tolerance.
“It really is a social development program,” Chang added.
Dancing Classrooms, which was featured in the 2005 documentary, “Mad Hot Ballroom”, is currently being offered in 11 Los Angeles schools. West Hollywood got involved through Jean Louisa Kelly, who is a member of Friends of West Hollywood Elementary and sits on the Dancing Classrooms board.
“I had no idea the kids would just gravitate toward it,” fifth-grade teacher Miguel Navarro said. “They owned it.”
He said the school incorporated math, history, language arts and technology into the program. Students calculated the perimeter of their dance space, wrote poems based on dance forms and studied the history of dance.
“It just morphed into this humongous thing,” Navarro said.
He said the impact on the students has been noticeable. They are calmer, and they have begun to garner a better understanding of gender, Navarro said.
“They treat themselves a little better — with more respect,” he added.
Principal Julia Charles agreed, citing Dancing Classrooms’ impact on the students’ social skills. The program had also served as a “cootie shot” of sorts, as the boys and girls had to become comfortable dancing with one another.
“Their friendships have been enhanced,” Charles said. “It’s all a tribute to this wonderful program.”
Gaby Shenderovsky, 10, said she “loved” the program and that it “has been a great experience.” She said her sister is a gymnast, so she’d had some dance practice before. Yet, her favorite dance was the merengue.
“I liked it because you got to shake your hips,” Gaby said.
Alexa Kendell’s favorite dance was the swing, because it was very exciting and fun. Despite not having much dance experience, the 10-year-old said the program “was the most amazing time” in her life.
“I can’t believe how good I am. Before I didn’t know anything about dancing,” Alexa said.
Erick Martinez, 10, liked the swing dance because it was fast and involved a lot of turning. He too had little experience beforehand, though he’s ready for bigger and better things now.
“Right now, I feel like I’ll be ready for prom,” Erick added.
The students, though, will have another chance to showcase their talents well before prom. A Dancing Classrooms Los Angeles competition, “Colors of the Rainbow”, will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. today at Wilshire Park Elementary School, 4063 Ingraham St. West Hollywood will battle Annandale, Fullbright, Robert Hill Lane, Selma Avenue and Wilshire Park elementary schools. The winner will participate in the Grand Finals competition in June.
Though it launched in Los Angeles this year, Dancing Classrooms has 24 sites nationwide, with 500 schools participating. For more information, visit www.dancingclassroomsla.org.