Pierre Dulaine Makes Classrooms Dance

In 1994 Pierre Dulaine made it his mission to take ballroom dancing to the young people in New York City. As artistic director of The American Ballroom Theater, he has done just that.

Date added to ADN: Monday, Nov 01 1999
Originally Published: Monday, Jul 01 2013
By Christine Zona

In 1994 Pierre Dulaine made it his mission to take ballroom dancing to the young people in New York City. As artistic director of The American Ballroom Theater, he has done just that.

When the program started, he taught at only six schools. This last season he was up to twenty schools. He now has a staff of six teachers, and they have brought the gift of dance to eighteen hundred children this year alone; many who might never have had this opportunity.

"Before I would have to be on the phone promoting and trying to get schools to do this," says Pierre. "Now I have schools calling me."

Even though the American Ballroom Theater is not employed by the New York City school system, it is important to realize that this program is mandatory; it is not an elective. When the school chooses to participate in Dancing Classrooms, as this outreach program is called, the lessons take place during school hours not after school. And these are not just cotillion classes for children in wealthy neighborhoods; they go to tough neighborhoods -­­­­­­ Harlem, East Harlem.

The classes are comprised of thirty to thirty-five children in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades. The first lesson is very difficult. Pierre goes to the school a few days before the class starts to meet the students and discuss the program with them. "We teach the merengue on the first lesson because the music is fun and lively," says Pierre. "We get them to do the steps on their own, then we put on the music and slowly we get them to touch each other…and they don't like that. Of course kids at that age won't admit to each other that they like it even if they do. We start with the fingertips touching each other. Then we put the elbows together and we have a lot of squeals and screams." They rarely get into dance position on the first lesson. Pierre says they are okay with being in dance position after three or four lessons. "Within twenty lessons you wouldn't believe they're the same children."

The main focus in many other children's programs is just learning the steps so the students can go to competitions. Pierre's program is different. His classes teach kids respect, how to properly interact with one another, cooperation and teamwork. The secondary goal is to learn the steps and to have fun doing it.

As the children learn different dances they begin to learn in which country the dance originated, so they learn a little geography and spelling, but most importantly they learn the rhythm and moving to music. The program helps the kids to learn a lot about each other. Howard Epstein, Assistant Principal of Public School 130 says, "I have noticed so much of a difference since Pierre has come into our lives. Our children have been so much more poised and loving music and feel so much better about themselves. Their self esteem has been so much better than it's ever been." The children love Pierre's accent and think he's nice and fun. He captivates them. One child said, "We really like him and want him to be here the rest of our lives."

Pierre says that he does not teach children differently from adults. "I teach everyone the same because I believe everyone is a child no matter what age he is," says Pierre. "The best way to teach anyone is the simplest way. Use the fewest words possible and directly focus on what you want to say. Get to the point. Kids have great instincts."

Pierre was born in Palestine where his father was a member of the police. He lived in Jordan and Lebanon, and then his family moved to England when he was twelve. Pierre started dancing at the age of fourteen in Birmingham, England. At nineteen he went to London and started competing in the Olde Tyme Style (sequence round dancing). He had lessons with John Del-Roy, an exhibition show dancer, and was greatly influenced by him and his style. Del-Roy advised Pierre to go to ballet and Spanish dance classes. Pierre's hard work and determination paid off, and he became England's youngest champion when he won The Duel of the Giants at the age of 21. In 1971 Pierre was working as a cruise ship director. He stopped in New York City for a short vacation. He has lived there ever since.

As a supervisor at Arthur Murray Dance Studios, he met Yvonne Marceau, and with her he won the British Exhibition Championships four times undefeated. Pierre Dulaine and Yvonne Marceau are known as the finest adagio couple of their generation. They performed all over the world until 1982 when they retired from competition. The man they credit with their success is John Roudis. John was an adagio and cabaret dancer in the 1930's from Greece. He passed down the types of lifts and the style that were characteristic of the 30's, and stressed working with circular shapes versus straight lines.

Six months after they retired, Liz Thompson, Executive Director of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, invited Pierre and Yvonne to dance in a program of duets at the Pillow's Ted Shawn Theater. Pierre says, "We were tired of the competitive world, but we wanted to reach the dancing public. Somehow, the seed planted at the Pillow grew. We put together a full evening show called Sheer Romance." And American Ballroom Theater was born. The original company consisted of Gary and Lori Pierce, Wilson Barrera and Margaret Burns, John and Cathi Nyemchek, Pierre and Yvonne. They have presented more than 350 performances in 28 states and seven countries. After their success with ABrT, Pierre and Yvonne spent three years, 1989 to 1992, as featured artists in the Broadway musical Grand Hotel.

Along with Pierre, Yvonne is the artistic director of ABrT. Even though she does not teach the children's classes anymore, she is still very involved on the administrative end, working with the teachers and the principals. Yvonne says, "I believe a great deal in what the program offers and what it does for the children. I've seen the happiness that it invokes in them."

What sets Dancing Classrooms apart is its commitment to reach every child—not just those identified as specially gifted and talented. Studies have found that children exposed to the arts excel in all subjects—more than children that only study academic subjects. Pierre hopes to develop children's programs that can eventually be implemented in schools all across the country.

When asked of what accomplishment he is most proud, Pierre says, "I think my best work is still to come. I really believe that."

Originally published in Dance Notes on Nov/Dec 1999 by Christine Zona.

About the Author:

A health major in college, Christine Zona has always been interested in physical, emotional and mental wellness. She is currently working on combining her dance expertise and healthy lifestyle knowledge to give dancers a lifestyle program that will increase their energy, enhance their performance and reshape their bodies.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the AccessDance Network. Be aware that imagery is copyrighted and often licensed for use on AccessDance only. Copying of images is strictly prohibited.

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