Can you ballroom dance better than a fifth grader?

Sandy Plains Elementary ballroom dancing students: Kaylah Marsh, Giommar Rodriguez, Alyse Powell-Witten, Julian Gasque, Breonna Folk, and Dean Cox.

Baltimore County Public Schools students in grade 5 physical education classes are dancing up a storm each winter – learning the merengue, tango, swing, and cha-cha. 

This year, students from eight elementary schools had the exciting opportunity to take five ballroom dance lessons from Christine Cox, a professional dancer and teacher from New York City. Cox is originally from Baltimore. A graduate of Franklin High School, she studied dance education at Towson University and was mentored as an undergraduate by Suzanne Henneman, resource teacher in the BCPS Office of Dance Education.

Approximately 700 fifth-grade students at Shady Spring, Sandy Plains, Norwood, Pleasant Plains, Johnnycake, Mars Estates, Charlesmont, and Featherbed elementary schools were part of the third year of the fifth-grade program, which has doubled in the number of schools served each year. Their classes took place from January 11-15, January 25-28, and February 22-26.

Students dancing at Mars Estates Elementary School.
On their final day of dance classes, students from Featherbed Elementary pose with dance teacher and BCPS graduate Christine Cox
Sandy Plains Elementary students get ready to tango.
Boys from Pleasant Plains Elementary School practice their dance stance.

On the last day, parents are invited to see the students demonstrate their dance moves and then to dance with them.

The grade 5 ballroom program is part of a larger initiative from the Offices of Dance and Physical Education addressing the need for students in grades 5, 8, and 9 to develop respectful behaviors as well as knowledge and skill on the dance floor. Henneman leads the lessons for 600-700 students at seven or eight middle and high schools each year.

“The kids love it,” says Henneman. “They are so in tune with it now through the media. Because of shows like ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ ballroom dance doesn’t have the stigma that it used to. The boys love it as much as the girls.”

Henneman also notes that “We are really teaching many things through dance – all about respect, self-esteem, how to carry yourself…There is a lot more to it than just learning the steps.”

Dance is a lifetime activity and falls under the Rhythms and Dance Unit in the Physical Education curriculum. The program is funded through the Fine Arts Initiative Grant from the Maryland State Department of Education and facilitated by the Office of Dance.

Story by Suzanne Henneman, resource teacher, Office of Dance Education, and Diana L. Spencer, communications officer, Office of Communications. Photos courtesy of the Office of Dance Education.
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