Fifth grade students at Wildwood Elementary school in Puyallup will get another year of Dancing Classrooms thanks to a $15,000 grant from the Names Family Foundation.
Dancing Classrooms, a nonprofit project, launched in New York in 1994 and has been adopted into schools around the globe. The organization’s mission is to “cultivate essential life skills in children through the practice of dance.”
“Our goal has been to expose our kids to different arts and cultural events. Dancing is one of those things,” said Wildwood Principal Jennifer Fox. “We want to expose them to things that they might not be exposed to outside of school.”
Our goal has been to expose our kids to different arts and cultural events. Dancing is one of those things. We want to expose them to things that they might not be exposed to outside of school.
Jennifer Fox, principal of Wildwood Elementary
For ten weeks in the fall, approximately 64 fifth-graders participate in Dancing Classrooms twice a week, learning six ballroom dances: Merengue, Foxtrot, Rumba, Tango, Swing and Waltz. The students also learn a polka dance and three to four line dances.
At Wildwood, classes are taught by Erin Briones, a teaching artist from Pacific Ballroom in Auburn. Pacific Ballroom sends instructors to other schools in the surrounding areas for Dancing Classrooms, but Wildwood is so far the only school involved with the program in the Puyallup School District.
At the beginning of each session, the class is divided into two circles, with boys on the inside and girls on the outside. At first, students are a little shy about dancing, Briones said.
“They also start off nervous and scared and not wanting to do it, and that’s normal,” Briones said. “After the second lesson they usually change their minds and say it’s not as bad as (they) expected it to be.”
Briones also asks her students to write her a letter at the end of class about what they thought of the experience.
“It’s not just about ballroom dancing,” Briones said. “We see so many different changes in each child — socially (and) emotionally.”
It’s not just about ballroom dancing. We see so many different changes in each child — socially (and) emotionally.
Erin Briones, teaching artist
Seeing how Dancing Classrooms impacted her students was why Almai Malit-Idler, a former Wildwood principal, became involved in the program four years ago. She implemented Dancing Classrooms during fall of the school year.
“For me, I saw it as an opportunity for building community in the beginning of the year — something that could foster self-confidence for some kids,” said Malit-Idler, who is now the director of instructional leadership for assessment and accountability for the district.
After the first year, Malit-Idler noticed improved attendance and fewer instances of discipline for disruptive behavior for some of her students, believing there was a correlation with Dancing Classrooms.
“I came from a background of balancing the whole child and balancing academics and the arts,” said Malit-Idler. “We wanted to connect kids with nonacademic opportunities that are unique — and dancing is unique. It’s not a cheap program, but it’s worth every penny.”
I came from a background of balancing the whole child and balancing academics and the arts. We wanted to connect kids with nonacademic opportunities that are unique — and dancing is unique. It’s not a cheap program, but it’s worth every penny.
Almai Malit-Idler, former principal of Wildwood Elementary
Each Dancing Classroom costs $1,500. At three fifth grade classrooms, Wildwood looked at a $4,500 total for fall 2016.
As principal, Malit-Idler applied for a grant from the Names Family Foundation. When Jennifer Fox became principal in November, she found out that not only would the grant pay for the Dancing Classrooms this year, but for at least two more years, provided that the school continued at three fifth grade classrooms.
“We were surprised. We opened this letter and there’s a check for a few years,” Fox said. “It’s an expense that we wouldn’t have been able to continue next year if we had not had some outside support.”
“With a grant, it opens up the opportunity to not have to worry about where the money is coming from and just enjoy the program at Wildwood,” Briones added.
At the end of each Dancing Classroom season, students from Wildwood are selected to attend the Colors of the Rainbow performance, where other students from other schools come together to dance and win awards.
Last fall, 12 students (six boys and six girls) from Wildwood attended the performance. Malit-Idler, who was also there, said the performance shows the impact the program has made on the students.
Fox said she looks forward to the program at Wildwood next year.
“(Students) talk a lot about respect and collaboration (when) dancing with a partner, and communication and honoring each other’s differences,” Fox said. “It’s been great.”