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LAUSD Students Put On The Moves PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia   
Wednesday, 21 November 2012 04:41

Ballroom Dancing Competition Allows Kids to "Get Down" for their School

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Hair combed. Check! Shoes shined. Check! Choreography practiced once and again. Check! Nerves. Not checked!

That was the scene last week as 130 students from 11 campuses throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) competed in the "Fall 2012 Colors of the Rainbow," the culmination of a 10-week, 20-session dancing program offered by nonprofit group Dancing Classrooms Los Angeles in those schools.

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The campuses taking part in this competition included Annandale Elementary from Eagle Rock; Crescent Heights Elementary from Mid-City; Eastman Elementary from East Los Angeles; El Rodeo Elementary from Beverly Hills; Glassell Park Elementary from Glassell Park; Laurel Street Elementary from Compton; Norwood Elementary from University Park; Rio Vista Elementary from North Hollywood; Robert Hill Lane Elementary from Monterey Park; Serrania Elementary from Woodland Hills; and Valley View Elementary from Hollywood Hills.

As part of the program, 5th graders are taught six ballroom dances twice a week in class: foxtrot, merengué, rumba, swing, tango and waltz.

"They learn to work in teams and it creates a safe place to interact with each other," said Sophia Mei-Ling Chang, executive director of Dancing Classrooms Los Angeles. "This is about social development and relating to other people."

Featured in the 2005 documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom," the program began in New York City and is now in its second year in Los Angeles schools. The mission of Dancing Classrooms, Chang said, is to eliminate bias and promote positive human relations by building social awareness, confidence and selfesteem in young people through the practice of social dance. Students learn to respect themselves, their teammates, and others who are different from them.

"Where else are you going to see kids from Compton and Beverly Hills in one single place," said Chang, adding approximately 1,300 kids are taught dancing at 19 different schools.

It's also about learning to interact with the opposite sex in a respectful way before puberty hits full on.

"We get them to touch in respectful ways," Chang said. That's one of the hardest things for kids to get used to. "It was really scary," said Sloan Pirie from Rio Vista Elementary, on the first time she had to dance with a male partner. "The boys were all sweaty," she continued, before adding that she doesn't mind that now. "We got used to it."

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"It felt uncomfortable," chimed in her friend Zaniya Hicks. "But it's better now." Saul Lopez, also from Rio Vista, wasn't all that jazzed about it either.

"It was actually really hard," he said. "Now it's really easy and I have confidence in myself."

ALEX GARCIA/SFVS

And he will take that confidence to any place where dancing is involved.

"It's actually really fun (dancing) and it helps you because I might need it in the future if I'm invited to a party," Lopez said.

This time, the party was inside a parent-packed auditorium at the Roybal Learning Center in downtown Los Angeles, where the students put their moves to the test before several judges (all of them professional dancers or choreographers) to determine which schools advance to the grand finale in May of next year. The winner will receive a 5-foot trophy and have plenty of bragging rights.

ALEX GARCIA/SFVS

The place was full of energy and bodies moving to the rhythm of the music, as they swayed, kicked and shaked to the best of their abilities, putting to practice all the dancing lessons they'd had for the past two and a half months.

Couple after couple moved, sometimes in unison – sometimes not so much – while parents and the rest of their school peers cheered them on.

Some of the schools wore matching outfits, others simply put on their Sunday best. But they all gave it their best on the floor, to the delight of teachers, parents and the Dancing Classroom staff.

"This is our second year, and it is such an important part of our curriculum," said Rio Vista Principal Kevin McClay. "It not only teaches the students to dance, it teaches them social skills, politeness, discipline, teamwork and all sorts of things."

But this was also a competition, and not everyone advanced to the grand finale in May. The teams from Laurel, El Rodeo, Eastman and Serrania earned gold; those teams will face off against the Winter 2013 and Spring 2013 session winners.

Rio Vista, Robert Hill Lane and Valley View earned silver, while Glassell Park, Crescent Heights, Annandale and Norwood received bronze.

All participants received a rainbow-colored medal, as well as plenty of pats and cheers from parents, siblings and school classmates.

And those initial nerves? Well, they got in check!

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 November 2012 05:01