Building Confidence through Ballroom DancingMonday, April 16, 2018

In Patchogue-Medford, fifth grade teachers and students recently explored the social-emotional struggles of a fifth grader named Auggie in Wonder by R.J. Palacio. The book aligns with the school district’s PEAS (Physical, Emotional, Academic and Social Growth) Program. To reinforce the book’s lessons, the teachers invited Dancing Classrooms to work with students. Dancing Classrooms teaches social-emotional literacy through ballroom dancing. Through the collaboration of teachers and dance artists, fifth graders learned how to persevere outside their comfort zone and overcome their insecurities.


The Dancing Classroom residency consisted of 20 sessions over 10 weeks. The program began with lessons on respecting others and defining respectable body language. The students were taught the “escort position,” which they used to enter the gym at the start of a session. They also learned how to rotate cooperatively to a new dance partner. “In the beginning, students are often resistant to touching each other,” notes Jane Lohman, a Dancing Classroom teaching artist. “Instead of touching, they’ll ‘air frame’ in order to do the dances. We focus on providing a positive, respectful, safe environment for students. We reinforce that it’s just dancing and help students get past thinking it is something else.”

As the residency progressed, students reviewed the dance steps they’d learned during the previous weeks and learned new dance steps. “The students learned six ballroom dances as well as a folk and line dance,” according to Ms. Lohman. Each lesson included a combination of demonstrations, observations and practice.

Halfway through the residency, Ms. Lohman was joined by buddy teaching artist Thomas Schultz ("'Mr. Thomas"). “It’s not unusually for some students, especially boys, to still be resistant halfway through the program,” notes Ms. Lohman. The teaching artists demonstrated several dances, including the merengue, foxtrot, rumba, tango, swing and the waltz. “Mr. Thomas served as a role model – so that students would know what was expected of them,” says Ms. Lohman. “His presence gave them confidence and set them up for success. He helped boys to see it as a safe place.”

Mr. Thomas agrees. “After my visit, there is a fundamental change in all students, but especially the boys. My presences enabled students to connect the dots—to get comfortable. They’ve practiced respect in previous sessions. However, when I’m there, the students see me model it.” He noted that the Grade 5 classroom teachers who did the dance steps also served as role models for the students.

The teaching artists used props to give a “flavor” of the countries where the dance steps came from. For example, when Mr. Thomas introduced the rumba step, he wore a straw hat, similar to those worn in Cuba. He also spoke of Cuba’s climate and geography. He told the student to “slide their feet as if they were pushing sand away” on a Cuban beach. After the students practiced the rumba, the teaching artists offered suggestions for improvement and complimented their strengths.


“After Mr. Thomas’s visit, some students really turned around,” says Ms. Lohman. The students continued to learn new steps and practice the ones already learned.



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