Wednesday, 20 February 2013 12:31


Dressed to impress, Norwood Elementary School fifth-graders did the tango during last Friday’s demonstration. photo by Roland Dorsey

Fifth-graders learn ballroom dancing at local schools

by Nicole Rodman

(Click on the highlighted school names to view the students dancing)

Fifth-graders at three local schools showed off their newfound dance skills during ballroom dance demonstrations last Friday.
    Participating in the dance program were students at Charlesmont, Sandy Plains and Norwood elementary schools.
    Beginning seven years ago, the ballroom dance program was originally funded by a grant, though the cost is now borne by the individual schools.
    Taught by New York-based dance instructor Christine Cox, the program began at a handful of Baltimore County schools.
    Today, 40 county schools participate in the program, though Cox does not teach at each of these schools.alt
    Each school year, Cox travels from New York to Maryland to spend the one hour each day teaching dance techniques to fifth-grade students.
    She comes down three times a year to teach students in the program.
    Originally from Maryland, Cox graduated from Towson University before moving to New York to pursue a career in dance.
    According to Cox, she was approached by Baltimore County Public Schools dance resource teacher Suzanne Henneman a number of years ago about starting a pilot dance program for fifth-graders.
    The program does not just teach dance moves, Cox noted, it also teaches students respect and boosts the confidence of more introverted students.
    As she explained, dancing also provides a face-to-face communication experience for students more accustomed to communicating through social media such as Facebook.alt
    During Cox’s week with students at each school, she teaches them four dance styles. On the last day of the week, Cox invites parents to visit the school for a dance demonstration by students.
    Last Friday, students at Charlesmont, Sandy Plains and Norwood performed for their delighted parents.
    The program at each school began as students, dressed in their best, proceeded in boy-girl couples into the gym to the Black-Eyed Peas hit “I Gotta Feeling.”
    The first dance demonstrated was the merengue, a dance from the Dominican Republic.
    Students performed the dance to traditional music before mixing things up a bit with a demonstration to Psy’s Korean-Pop hit “Gangnam Style.”
    Many seemed nervous as they danced, while others commanded the dance floor.
    Parents crowded around the edges, snapping pictures as their children danced by.
    Next, students did the Argentinian tango, also to traditional music.
    Perhaps the most energetic of the dances was the swing dance demonstration.
    Students performed the U.S.-born dance as strains of Big Band music echoed through the gym.
    Finally, students performed the cha-cha, a Cuban-originated dance.
    Students performed this dance to two modern hits, “No One” by Alicia Keys and “Good Feeling” by Flo Rida.
    Finally cutting loose, a number of students performed dances that they themselves had choreographed and practiced during the week.
    Taking the chance to embarrass their parents, students then grabbed their parents by the hand to participate in the dancing.
    Each of the dance programs came to an end with a crowd of student, parents and teachers dancing in the middle of the gym.
    While it is undoubtedly fun, for teachers and administrators at each school, the program’s educational benefits are clear.
    According to Charlesmont fifth-grade teacher Janelle Filling, the program gives students a chance to gain confidence and come out of their shell.
    She also noted that ballroom dancing teaches etiquette and provides students with an alternative to sports.
    Noting that the school’s PTA pays for the program, Filling explained, “At this point we pursue it because we’ve seen such a great reaction from parents and students.”alt
    For her part, Norwood principal Patrice Goldys agreed that the program is beneficial, explaining, “This really teaches kids etiquette.”
    As Norwood physical education teacher Matthew Berkey noted, dancing is already a part of Norwood’s curriculum.
    The school also boasts a popular dance group called M&M (music and movement), though the program does not teach ballroom styles.
    As Berkey explained, aside from etiquette, dance also teaches kids self-reliance, independence, and critical and creative thinking.
    Learning so many styles of dance from across the world also gives kids a greater appreciation of other cultures, Berkey noted.
    Noting the students’ week of hard work, Berkey added, “They’ve done so well all week long.”
    While the ballroom dance program may have ended for this year, each school eagerly awaits the return of the program in  2014.