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Mad Hot Ballroom Comes to Minnesota

By Ember Reichgott Junge

So, you've never seen fifth-graders dancing foxtrot? Then you've never seen Dancing Classrooms in action.

"I felt like a proud papa, because the kids did such an amazing job," said Principal Kirk Morris of Benjamin E. Mays IB World School in St. Paul, one of the inaugural Dancing Classrooms schools in Minnesota this fall. "And the way they respected each other on that stageā€“it showed from afar. Parents were as surprised as I was with the finished product. I did know our kids can rise to the occasion, but they went to another level."

Dancing Classrooms, the New York City program showcased in the award-winning documentary Mad Hot Ballroom, was launched in Minnesota this fall by local nonprofit Heart of Dance, bringing the benefits of ballroom dance to fifth-graders. Other inaugural schools participating in the 10-week residency included Athlos Leadership Academy, Brooklyn Park; Four Seasons A+ Elementary School, St. Paul; and Friendship Academy of the Arts, Minneapolis.

In total, over 250 fifth graders in 11 classrooms performed in their December school showcase "Culminating Events" to the delight of parents and their school community. "More confident. More respectful. Excited and positive," wrote parents in their evaluations describing their child's behavior during Dancing Classrooms. When students led their families in the Macarena and other dances, the energy blew through the roof!

It all led to the December 13 all-school Colors of the Rainbow Team Match with 110 fifth graders dancing Merengue, Tango, Rumba, Foxtrot, Swing and Waltz before a cheering packed house of over 300 at Dancers Studio. These pictures capture not only dance steps, but the Respect, Elegance, and Teamwork demonstrated by every pair. No question: every student who performed was a winner. Heart of Dance is grateful to professional ballroom dance judges Amy Anderson, Nathan Daniels, Marcy McHenry, and Eliecer and Rebecca Ramirez, and our sponsors, University of Minnesota Ballroom Dance Club and U Partner Dance for making the event possible.

Check out the videos, photos, and media coverage of the school showcases and Colors of the Rainbow Team Match at www.HeartofDanceMn.org. These young dancers are good, but Dancing Classrooms is so much more than dance steps. "It's a vehicle for teaching essential life skills, focusing on teamwork, elegance, and respect. You see it in the way students look on the dance floor, how well they behave in an unfamiliar and stressful situation, and how they step up to fill in for missing teammates at the last minute," said Heart of Dance Creative Director Andrea Mirenda, one of two Teaching Artists this fall.

Due to great response, Heart of Dance is expanding second semester. Seven Twin Cities schools are signed up for Dancing Classrooms and more can participate, if funding allows. You can help. Introduce Dancing Classrooms to a school you know. Make a gift, large or small, to Heart of Dance, a 501c3 nonprofit, to bring Dancing Classrooms to more students. Find out how you can become a Classroom Sponsor. Volunteer as a Classroom Assistant. Like HeartofDanceMN on Facebook. Follow on Twitter. Contact Co-Founders Ember Reichgott Junge (EmberRJ@heartofdancemn.org) or Andrea Mirenda (AndreaM@heartofdancemn.org) to find out more.

Heart of Dance could not do this without the support of our ballroom dance community. Thank you for helping to transform young lives one step at a time!

Ember Reichgott Junge is the Heart of Dance Development Director