Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Students dance the way to social skills

from the Winston-Salem Journal:

By Mary Giunca

Pierre Dulaine strides onto the stage at Forest Park Elementary School with a combination of Old World courtliness and drill sergeant snap.

“Feet together!” he commands a group of fifth-graders who stand around in various forms of slouch. “Hands out of your pockets.”

For the next 45 minutes, Dulaine, a professional dancer and the founder of Dancing Classrooms, alternately guides, cajoles and bullies another MTV generation through the rudiments of ballroom dance.

“Is this elegance?” he asks as he demonstrates the wide leg, hands-in-pocket stance of the students.

They laugh.

Yesterday was Dulaine’s first appearance at the school. The Dancing Classrooms program started last year at Forest Park, Cook, the Arts Based and Ibraham elementary schools.

Dancing Classrooms is a 10-week, 20-session program for fifth- and eighth-grade students that uses ballroom dancing as a tool to develop social skills, self-confidence and teamwork.

Ann Guill, a local dance teacher, works as the site director for the state pilot program, which got its start in Winston-Salem last year.

The program was founded in 1994. Last school year, it served 50,000 children in 525 schools in 16 U.S. cities as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Geneva, Switzerland. Dancing Classrooms inspired the film Take the Lead, in which Antonio Banderas played Dulaine.

The program works, says Sandra Gilmer, Forest Park’s principal.

Last year, people commented on how well-behaved the children were on field trips as the year progressed, and she credits the program for that.

Dulaine’s program incorporates many of the elements of a basic etiquette course, such as the proper way to stand, shake hands and hold partners when dancing.

He has advice for fifth-graders who are dubious about being paired off and told to hold hands: “He’s not going to be your boyfriend. She’s not going to be your girlfriend.”

The children laugh, and the session continues.

Dulaine said children know he is on their side and working with them.

“Many times we tell children how wonderful they are without being specific,” he says. “They need truth. They need answers.”


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