Students at two Wake County elementary schools came to learn about dancing Friday, but the real lessons they learned were about life and how to show respect to others.
Mary McCatty, an educational liaison with New York-based Dancing Classrooms, taught students at Powell Elementary in Raleigh and Zebulon Elementary the basics about ballroom dancing, swing dancing and line dancing. Along the way, McCatty communicated ideas such as how body language means as much as spoken language and to be respectful in both actions and words.
“In this day and time, boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen don’t always treat each other with respect, and that’s part of what we’re doing,” McCatty said. “It’s social, emotional learning. You learn how to partner up and be a teammate and then how to really move together with that person.”
Dancing Classrooms started in 1994 in New York City as a program teaching ballroom dancing to elementary and middle school students. It’s now become a national program that serves 45,000 students a year.
According to Dancing Classrooms, learning the art of social dance cultivates essential life skills in children. The group says teaching children to dance together fosters respect, teamwork, confidence and a sense of joy and accomplishment.
Those attributes were on the agenda Friday as McCatty talked to students about politely asking a person for a dance, showing respect by dancing with someone who they may not want to dance with, and thanking their partner after a dance. McCatty was at two magnet schools, Powell and Zebulon, that offer expanded arts programs.
The hope is that when they leave Powell they have their excitement ignited and their curiosity ignited.
Jessica Smith, dance teacher at Powell Elementary School in Raleigh
McCatty used merengue, a type of Dominican dance, to teach ballroom dancing. She then moved to “Rock Around the Clock” to introduce the students to swing dancing before ending with “Uptown Funk” to get the kids excited about line dancing. By the end of the hour, the students were disappointed when they were told the class was over.
Ja-Shiya Spruill, 10, a fifth-grader at Powell, said she wants to continue learning about ballroom dancing.
“It was fun,” Ja-Shiya said. “You can use things to get to know people better.”
Damarion King, 10, a fifth-grader at Powell, was thrilled at being the prince of the court as he led the students in a circle as they waved to “Queen Smith” – their dance teacher Jessica Smith.
“I liked the dancing,” Damarion said. “I like how she set it up.”
Smith said the students were thrilled to learn from someone like McCatty, who used to be a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall and has performed on Broadway.
“This is a huge deal for them,” Smith said. “I know it sparked a huge interest in a lot of them because the hope is that when they leave Powell they have their excitement ignited and their curiosity ignited.”
The dance lessons were held at a time when Powell Elementary is in a state of transition. Curtis Brower, Powell’s principal, said he wants to keep Smith and the dance program but that no decision has been made on what the revised magnet theme will be next school year.
“The sky’s the limit,” Brower said.