Shall We Dance, local leaders bring Dancing Classrooms to Monterey County.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Ingrid Tower, founder of the Shall We Dance studio in Pacific Grove, glows as she relates the story of how she managed to lead Pierre Dulaine and his innovative teaching program to the Monterey Bay area. Those who have seen the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom know that Dulaine, world-renowned dancer and teacher, is the creator of Dancing Classrooms, which teaches fifth-grade students ballroom dancing as part of their regular school curriculum. Several programs have been established in other cities, but this is a first for California. Dulaine has decided that Pacific Grove will be his national teacher-training center on the West Coast.
From Nov. 22-25, Dulaine will bring the first National Training Dancing Classrooms Seminar ever presented outside of his American Ballroom Theater in New York City to P.G.
Sixteen teachers from the local area will participate in the four-day intensive workshop, and in January 2009, will teach Dancing Classrooms to fifth-grade students at Junipero Serra and Carmel River School in Carmel; Forest Grove and Robert Down in Pacific Grove and Laurel Wood and Monterey Park in Salinas.
Dulaine and his partner, Yvonne Marceau, launched the program, which embodies much more than instruction in ballroom dance, in New York in 1994.
“It teaches life skills wrapped up in ballroom dance,” he says. As children move with a partner, practicing the rumba, merengue, tango and waltz, self-esteem, respect for others and positive touch come naturally, qualities have far-reaching implications for a child’s future. Research from other schools has shown that Dancing Classrooms has affected school climate, obesity and diabetes, community health, teacher turnover and even teen pregnancy.
“Dance changed my whole life!” Dulaine writes on his website (www.dancingclassrooms.com). “It gave me everything I dreamed of. From being very shy I became confident; I learned to stand up straight and shake hands with a positive attitude. I became the champion of my dreams.” Now, he’s become a champion of other children’s dreams.
Tower, who participated in the New York training program, says every element of the Dancing Classrooms course is intentional, from the choice to teach it in fifth grade – pre-puberty – to the music selection for each class of the 10-week program, to its integration into the curriculum. Each action conveys the positive messages of authority, warmth, humor, care and openness. Students grow to feel safe. After a while, they even allow themselves to look foolish, accepting themselves and others as they are. And it’s great fun; laughter is one of the main ingredients of a class.
A 30-year resident of the Monterey Peninsula and a retired educator and business professional, Tower has made a habit of manifesting visions. Just three years ago she saw a rental space in Pacific Grove, dark and divided into office cubicles, and knew that was the place for the dance studio she’d always dreamed of. Today, the Shall We Dance studio boasts a state-of-the art dance floor and a full roster of dance classes for people of all ages and levels of experience, including the physically challenged.
In similar fashion, when Tower saw Mad Hot Ballroom, she knew she wanted to bring Dancing Classrooms to the Monterey area. She called Dulaine immediately.
However, the financial requirements for the program were beyond the means of Peninsula school budgets. Then, this March, John Ross, the national network director for Dancing Classrooms, phoned regarding a Dulaine quote on Shall We Dance’s website. After assuring him she wasn’t teaching Dulaine’s program without permission, Tower mentioned her previous conversation with Dulaine, and Ross explained that the program had been restructured, drastically reducing the cost to schools because community nonprofits were becoming sponsors.
The next day, a man happened by the studio. He told Tower that he was working with Mayor Dennis Donohue of Salinas, who wanted to find activities to reduce gang friction. Tower asked if he’d heard of Dulaine.
“He said yes,” Tower recalls. “The mayor had said a few days before, ‘I want that Pierre Dulaine here.’” Tower then invited Donohue, other local mayors, school district personnel and interested parties to hear Ross present the program. The idea was heartily embraced by all. P.G. Mayor Dan Cort said it would “infuse classrooms with new creativity.” The Action Council of Monterey County assumed fiscal sponsorship. In a matter of months, Tower’s vision has become a reality.