The Gordon School Showcases Dancing Classrooms
Fifth graders at the Gordon School in East Providence will be showing off their ballroom dancing skills with a presentation for friends and family today.
Fifth graders at the Gordon School in East Providence will be showing off their ballroom dancing skills with a presentation for friends and family today. The students have been practicing the polka, the waltz, the merengue and the foxtrot as a part of the curriculum for dancing classrooms, a non-profit arts education program.
Founded in 1994 by ballroom legend Pierre Dulaine, Dancing Classrooms is a ten-week, twenty session program for children at transition points in school, mainly in the fifth and sixth grades. Brought to Rhode Island by Rodney Lopez, the current executive director of the program, Dancing Classrooms cultivates life skills, including respect, teamwork, confidence, joy and accomplishment through the practice of social dance. At the Gordon School, all three sections of the fifth grade come together for dance class first thing in the morning. Students enter the ballroom, a makeshift dance floor in the school’s theater, with a partner in escort position. They form a large circle and begin to stretch.
Before the dancing begins, Lopez instructs the students to have ‘crispy chicken wing elbows’ and ‘peanut butter and jelly sandwich arms.’ Immediately they stiffen up. “I noticed when he says the term it spurs a wheel for them,” says Greg Carson, one of the fifth-grade teachers. “But he always makes us hungry,” adds Ren Cristohall, a Gordon School student. Lopez introduces between fifty and sixty different words and phrases throughout the dancing classrooms curriculum. Students often recognize that these terms, albeit rather funny, make the dances easier to remember. Other teachers have even begun to use Lopez’s terms in their classrooms. The Gordon School is using dancing classrooms to model homework assignments, too, whether it’s interviewing a family member about their own experience with dance or creating a math problem using the number of different steps in the polka. Students will show off their dances, along with this supplemental work at their presentation and Lopez suspects there will be some tears from parents.
“They’ve seen their children on the basketball court, they’ve seen them in the school play, they’ve seen them on the lacrosse field, they’ve seen them in science fairs and maybe they’ve even seen them doing ballet or tap dancing,” he says. “But what they haven’t seen in all likelihood is their child dancing elegantly with another child. And what they are seeing is a glimpse into the future of that child.”
Students are expected to dress elegantly, in something they wouldn’t normally wear to school, because dancing classrooms isn’t a normal school experience. In typical subjects, like reading, writing and math, fifth graders are already learning at a variety of different levels. With ballroom dance, each individua student in the class begins at the same starting point, which makes it easier for students to participate without that level of embarrassment that comes with being new to something. “Everybody looks foolish when they do the foxtrot or the polka,” explains the Gordon School’s Communication Director Geoff Griffin. Instilling a sense of confidence even when trying something new, is one of the main goals of Dancing Classrooms. While children dancing with one another might look cute, there is much more going on beneath the surface. “Any adult who’s taken ballroom dancing lessons, whether it’s for their wedding or just for fun or for exercise, they’ll tell you that something really special happens inside, as their confidence grows and their competency grows as well in the dance,” says Lopez. “There’s a real feeling of achievement.” In addition, fifth graders at the Gordon School are beginning to recognize the values that they have been learning through the class’s curriculum, including Respecting each other and working as a team.
“It helps us come together. Sometimes people at recess are doing things in different groups because people have different interests and that’s fine, but then at Dancing cCassrooms we’re all in this together,” says student Alejandro Quintero Cashore. Although the experience isn’t optional, it is something the students have enjoyed doing. They often treat it as a type of recess or a way to exert energy. Many have even brought the dances home to teach their families and friends outside of the Gordon School, spreading the values inspired by Dancing Classrooms.
“I taught my cat how to do the merengue,” says student Zoey Frank, demonstrating the fact that kids will still be kids, despite knowing how to ballroom dance. “He didn’t like it.”