Hot to Foxtrot
Ballroom dancing catches fire with PG students after school.
Thursday, April 6, 2006
Two warm bodies come close to each other. Closer still. The male’s hand rests on his partner’s hip. One of her arms falls on his shoulder. Then the music starts, prompting both bodies to sway and swing. They do this in unison, twirling around a parquet floor in perfect symmetry.
This is what ballroom dancing looks like. It’s two people caught in the social yet safe act of moving as one. This kind of dancing has never really gone completely out of style in the Western world. But there is a revival of sorts taking place in one of the least likely places: among children.
For adults, most of whom have long since shed the kind of shyness that leads one to let out an instinctive “Eek!” when they hold a member of the opposite sex’s hand, ballroom dancing isn’t that much of a big deal as long as you have a little rhythm. But for kids, it takes a little getting used to. Not so much for the rhythm, but because of the handholding. To Ingrid Tower, that’s kind of the point.
Inspired by Mad Hot Ballroom, a documentary filmed in New York in which inner-city youth take up the dance with unexpected enthusiasm and success, Tower has organized her own version of a ballroom dance program for West Coast kids. She’s planting the seeds for the dance, and for the culture of ballroom dancing, in two Pacific Grove schools.
Every Tuesday at Robert H. Down Elementary School, a group of children in the third, fourth and fifth grades from Robert Down and Forest Grove Elementary School gather at the front of the gym after school to practice their moves. Led by Tower and an instructor she hires, the children tackle dances like the Cha Cha, Swing, Foxtrot and, of course, the Waltz.
“We’re bringing back that gracefulness between people,” says Tower, “that beauty between people. It allows the boys to be real gentlemen.”
Even though some people warned Tower that an after-school class, which is voluntary and charges a small fee, would be heavily populated with girls, the mix has turned out to be about even.
One of the benefits that comes with being young, as this class attests to, is that it’s easier for young people to learn dance steps than older folk.
“It’s really easy,” says Roman Maaske, a fifth-grade student who’s been in the program for two months, echoing a common comment among students.
“Once you start, you can’t stop,” chimes in Maaske’s classmate and friend, Timmy Matthews, during a break from dancing.
However, despite students’ enthusiasm, a few say they sometimes face some friendly teasing from other classmates over their newfound attraction in ballroom dancing.
“Some kids aren’t interested in this,” says Samantha Deems, a fourth-grade student. “They’re like, well, that dancing isn’t really in style.”
“Some of my friends laugh about it,” says Jacob Ellzey, a fifth-grade student. “But I don’t really care. I like it.”
To Song Suk Battle, who’s 8-year-old son David is in the after-school program, the primary reasons she had him enrolled are coordination and to gain a sense of music appreciation. But like Tower, she also wants him to make friends with boys and girls in a structured and positive environment.
“This is another way to educate children,” Song Suk Battle says. “It will teach him the proper attitudes towards members of the other gender.”
Many of the children, like Timmy Matthews, say that one of the benefits of learning how to dance is that they get to teach their parents.
“Everything that I learn,” Matthews says, “My mom likes to learn from me.”
For Tower, who used to teach German language and English, she’s hoping to sell the idea of a ballroom program on Peninsula schools—not just as solely an after school activity.
She’s quite serious about it, too. On April 1, Tower opened Shall We Dance, a dance studio in Pacific Grove that is already offering group and private lessons, as well as teacher training for some of the children’s after-school ballroom classes.
“What is so great about teaching ballroom to children is that you don’t need to be an expert or a great ballroom teacher,” says Tower, who’s looking for volunteers. “What you need are people who know how to inspire and teach children. We’ll teach you the steps.”
<>For more information, call Tower at 373-5678. Shall We Dance studio is located at 205 17th St. in Pacific Grove.>