Introducing ballroom dance to high school students
"I hope you'll dance. . . ."
This was the theme for the Houston Chapter 5003 of USA Dance for the 2014-15 year, which fit one of the chapter's goals of encouraging a variety of dance initiatives through grants and hands on support from members. One such initiative begun this year included increasing awareness at the high school level that ballroom dancing is an important extra-curricular activity in public schools.
It began with a hope and a dream. The chapter hoped that schools would be receptive to the idea of student dance groups and dreamed that the idea would spread and other schools in the Houston area would want to start a similar program.
Introducing ballroom dance to high school students required more than the hope that school officials, who have countless demands on their time, would gracefully waltz into the chapter's waiting arms and twinkle with delight. It was quickly understood, however, that to be successful this was a job for an insider. The board looked within the membership for those who were not only teachers in the local high schools but who also could jump and jive through the various requirements necessary to begin a ballroom dance club.
After finding a USA Dance member who was willing to invest the time necessary to work with administrators and students, one of the chapter's board members researched the information from national including: permission forms for parents, samples of by-laws for the organization, and other useful information. All of this was given to the school's administration for approval together with a list of students who had expressed an interest in starting a ballroom dance club.
Two teachers who were chapter members agreed to sponsor the club; announcements were made, and students recruited. The board agreed to purchase tee-shirts for students who committed to coming to the lessons. The next step--which dances and which steps to teach--generated much discussion. Thinking it best to begin simply and listening to some of the music suggested by students, single-time swing seemed to best fit the students and the Houston USA Dance chapter needs. So it began—an incredible journey.
With the promise of after school cookies and plenty of music, students hurried to the meeting room after school, dropping backpacks, grabbing a treat, and heading for the dance floor. Dancing on a tiled floor in a hallway brought attention to the start-up efforts of the young club - delighting and interesting students heading home after tutorials and the janitorial staff who applauded the efforts.
An early discovery was that these students wanted to learn all dances at the same time. It quickly became apparent that at least two dances would be required for them to practice and those would need to be changed each month or so, to accommodate the students' erratic schedules. Typically 12 to 16 students—in about equal numbers of boys and girls—came to each lesson, however, not always the same students attended. Alternating dances and returning to a dance after a month or so allowed students to "catch up" with the others. Swing led to salsa to fox trot, to demonstrations of rumba and cha-cha. Of course, being in Texas, a little two-step and a boot-scooting line dance were also important to include in the dance repertoire!
As the semester came to a close, students began to ask for more dance opportunities, so to end the club's activities on a positive note, the chapter contacted a local dance studio, Planet Ballroom, and the owner José Melendez who volunteered to arrange a dance party for the class. The students were thrilled to have a professional instructor—so even though the weather was a little soggy—torrential rains did not dampen their spirits—and several students descended on José's studio for pizza, soft drinks, and lots of dancing.
The members of Chapter 5003 learned that it is important to have a teacher/USA Dance member employed by in the school. While outside groups are welcomed in schools, the vetting process can be tricky and having someone connected to the school saves time and heartache. It is important to meet personally with school officials and to have all of the forms required by the school approved by the administration and to follow up and ensure that everything is in writing before actively recruiting students. Having a meeting time with students to explain the program and obtain their input on the music, proved to be essential. Because the majority of the students did not drive, those involved chose a late tutorial afternoon for the class/club to meet. On those days the school provided a late bus for students who wanted to stay for tutorials, work on projects in the library or, in this case, dance. The class was also scheduled to meet for 45 minutes of dancing, which then allowed students to stay and practice on their own if they desired.
Stepping onto the public school dance floor is not always an easy task; it can be both heartwarming and frustrating at the same time. Competing with AP tutorials, JROTCE, theater, band, and other extra-curricular activities and demands on the students' time means that they often are not able to commit to a scheduled practice each week, which may be frustrating. The smiles, giggles, and energy that these students exhibit, however, are heartwarming. It is the enthusiasm of the students that encourages all to continue to support the efforts of those members who are on the "front line." The chapter is looking forward to the next school year and to continue exploring more opportunities to work with these students as well as to encourage and, yes, DREAM that more schools in the district will want to begin their own dance clubs!
About the Author:Dr. Runyon teaches AP English at Mayde Creek High School in Katy, TX. She is also an avid ballroom dancer with her husband, board member Chuck Runyon.
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