Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ballroom Dance Contest Inspires 5th-Graders

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ballroom Dance Contest Inspires 5th-Graders

Article excerpt

It's not often that the introductory notes of a rhythmic Argentine tango flavored with accordion, violin and percussion elicits a roar of excitement from a roomful of fifth-graders.

The finals of St. Louis Dancing Classrooms is no ordinary affair.

After 10 weeks of training twice a week, select St. Louis public and private schools from Normandy to Imperial competed for bragging rights as ballroom dance kings and queens on Tuesday.

Held on the main stage of Scottish Rite Cathedral, the scene defied typical assumptions. Fifth-grade boys in fitted pants and tucked-in shirts escorted fifth-grade girls into the room, arms hooked at the elbows, heads held high, shoulders back and concentration in their eyes.

Squeals of foot-stomping approval erupted when "Hit the Road Jack" accompanied the swing dance, and they hooted, hollered and swayed in their seats as Frank Sinatra's "The Way You Look Tonight" kicked off the fox trot.

Joe Kilmade, the principal of St. Cecilia School and Academy, one of the first schools to adopt the program four years ago, said the structured dance helps "stem some of the social awkwardness of the age. I think it's great."

This year, 22 classes at 18 schools competed in meringue, fox trot, rumba, tango and swing. Most of the kids also learned to waltz. Six teams competed in the finals.

Started in 2008, the St. Louis program follows Pierre Dulaine's Dancing Classrooms curriculum documented in "Mad Hot Ballroom," an award-winning 2005 film about how the program is not about teaching ballroom dance but instead about breaking social barriers. All instructors for the program must be certified by Dulaine in New York.

St. Louis has four professional dance instructors who are paired with a teacher at each school. St. Louis co-founder Lauren Wilmore is a ballroom dancer and performer who is now its executive director, fundraiser and biggest cheerleader.

"It's awesome to see these kids transform into little ladies and gentlemen and really embrace ballroom dancing," Wilmore said. "It's the best thing in the world. No matter what kind of day you've had, when you see a room of 10-year-olds doing the meringue, you're like, OK, everything's going to be all right."

Part of the requirement for the schools is that all fifth- graders the program is currently only for fifth-graders take the course. This is a key component because camaraderie is crucial.

Wilmore said it's important for "the kids (to) learn that they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect no matter what. …

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