By Lora Lewis
What’s the secret to teaching fidgety grade-schoolers perseverance and social skills? It could be the foxtrot. Or maybe the rumba or the waltz. Through Dancing Classrooms Inc., 5th and 8th-grade students are polishing their teamwork and their focus through ballroom dancing. Yes, a few sessions of the merengue or cha-cha can teach kids cooperation, grit, dedication and patience.
Ballroom dancing not only teaches kids teamwork but also, the traditional manners and etiquette associated with ballroom dancing, which can help break down social and cultural barriers so that partners are equals on the dance floor. Self-esteem rises as steps are mastered and social skills develop. Families gain from the experience, too, as participants learn valuable interpersonal skills that help with them at school and at home.
Social dancing is an excellent workout, too. As more and more children are deemed overweight and even obese in the US, many schools are cutting back on recess and gym time. A rousing one-hour session of swing dancing burns a significant number of calories and delivers a great cardio workout. Balance, strength, and endurance improve as the gentle skills of grace and poise are developed.
In Philadelphia, Dancing Classrooms Philly has served over 25,000 students since its founding in 2007. The second-largest chapter after NYC, this school year Dancing Classrooms will be offered at over 70 schools in over 140 classrooms, and with more than 3,700 students dancing.
Kate Lombardi, Managing Director of Dancing Classrooms Philly says, “The benefits of having to look a classmate in the eye and stand palm to palm with that person goes far beyond the dance steps,” she explains. “Students are asked to dance with all of their classmates, both friends and not, which breaks them out of their shell, gives the skills and practice for respectful interaction and conflict resolution, and helps to build a sense of community. Students that you would not expect blossom through the experience and classmates are given the opportunity to see each other from a different perspective.”
When a school partners with DCP, they make a commitment to have all 5th or 8th grade students at their school participate in the program which consists of two 45 minute lessons per week for 10 weeks, a total of 20 lessons for each class.
At the end of the program, schools have the option to send 12 students to the Colors of the Rainbow Team Match after the completion of the residency. This friendly competition brings together all participating schools from each semester, celebrating the accomplishments of the larger DCP community.
Resident dance educators, specifically trained for the program, provide the instruction. Some schools pay a portion of the full cost to bring in the residency, others rely on the community to underwrite the program, and for some schools, DCP receives funding to bring in the program at no charge to a school.
The Dancing Classrooms program was the brainchild of Pierre Dulaine, the world champion ballroom dancer and Broadway star. He began the program in 1994, as a social and emotional development program for 5th graders. If it sounds familiar, in 2006 his inspiring story was made into a hit feature film, Take the Lead, starring Antonio Banderas as Mr. Dulaine. The award-winning documentary Mad Hot Ballroom follows a Dancing Classrooms competition.
The Dancing Classrooms programming is available to any school. There are currently classes in cities across the country, from Philadelphia and New York to Omaha, St. Louis and even the Virgin Islands. It’s now international; with classes formed in Canada, Switzerland, Jordan and Israel. Any school can apply for the program. Philadelphia-area school districts can reach out to Dancing Classrooms Philly to offer the program to their students here. Other school districts around the country can contact Dancing Classrooms, Inc. here.
Ms. Lombardi says, “Dancing Classrooms has a unique approach to working with children. The Dulaine Method, in which all of our teaching artists are trained, focuses on meeting both students and staff where they are, with compassion, humor, and respect. The quality control practices that are in place ensure that all students in every school are receiving the same level and quality of instruction. Transformation happens at every school throughout the region.”
And the end result, according to Ms. Lombardi, is that “Both students and staff will have so much fun along the way!”