Friday, amid the half-naked Abercrombie and Fitch posters and baggy-jean-wearing teens at Roosevelt Field Mall on Old Country Road in Long Island, a few brave elementary and middle-school children donned flouncy dresses, low-heels and ties to show off the ballroom-dancing skills they had acquired from Dancing Classrooms Long Island.
Dancing Classrooms is an arts-in-education program for fourth, fifth and eight grade students across Nassau and Suffolk County and Long Beach. The program has expanded to Florida, Texas and even overseas to Switzerland and the Middle East.
Curious spectators took a break from summer sales to check out the petite performers fox trot outside Macy’s, while Eileen Clarke, a teaching artist from the program, called out steps.
While very talented, many dancers had a hard time looking like they were having fun. Despite their serious expressions, one tiny twirler, a fifth grader named Emily, confided that she doesn’t get nervous when performing in public.
Emily’s favorite part of the program has been “having fun and learning” after a whole year of ballroom classes at her school. And when asked how her class reacted when told that this would be their gym class for the year, she said, “At first they were really embarrassed and didn’t want to do it but once they got into it, they liked it a lot.”
“We come into it usually in fifth grade, where they’re not wanting to touch each other, or look at each other, let alone be in a dance ring,” said Clarke. “So it’s always a challenge to really get them going or be respectful. But they do learn.”
Foxtrot, Waltz and Swing are some of the dances the children learn in the 10-week program.
Ballroom dancing is said to instill confidence and politeness in those who take lessons. The program is based on the teachings of Pierre Dulaine, and was the subject of the 2005 documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom” as well as the 2006 movie “Take The Lead.”
“It’s athletic, you are using your muscles but you’re also using your manners, which I don’t think happens in a lot of sports,” said Clarke.