To convey the impact of his nationwide Dancing Classrooms program, its chief executive, Glen de Vries, told an Akron Roundtable luncheon Thursday about the true story of a single mother whose fifth-grade son was involved.
“Think of some horrible circumstance, and keep thinking of them and keep piling them on one person to bear, and she had all of those,” de Vries said.
But when her young son would come home from school and teach her the steps that he learned in his Dancing Classrooms sessions, de Vries said a stunning transformation occurred.
Months later, in an interview with a researcher studying the impact of the program, the troubled woman was asked what she had learned from the dance steps her son had taught her each week.
“And she said: ‘Because of Dancing Classrooms, my son taught me how a gentleman treats a lady,’ ’’ de Vries told the audience at Quaker Station.
The 10-week program, in which a professional dance artist teaches the children an array of steps twice a week, is for students in the fifth and eighth grades, de Vries said.
Renowned ballroom dancer and instructor Pierre Dulaine, who was born in Jaffa, Palestine, in 1944, founded Dancing Classrooms 18 years ago in New York City. De Vries, a former cancer research specialist with a degree in genetics and molecular biology from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, is board president. He emphasized Thursday that it is not simply a class to learn classic ballroom and jazz dance steps.
“When you hear a fifth-grader say: ‘Thank you for changing my life,’ you realize the impact of the program,” de Vries said.
Teamwork, discipline, self-confidence and civil, respectful behavior are the program’s hallmarks.
“We always refer to the children as ‘ladies’ and ‘gentlemen,’ ’’ de Vries said.
About 2,000 school children throughout Ohio, among some 50,000 nationwide, participate in Dancing Classrooms, he said.
In Akron, where the program was introduced in 2008, six elementary and middle schools are involved: Crouse, Hyre, Leggett, Rimer, Schumacher and the Akron Opportunity Center.
Before de Vries addressed the audience, 11 children from Crouse — the boys clad in jackets and ties or fancy-colored shirts, the girls in formal dresses — formed a close circle and performed several dance steps. Among the background songs were Hernando’s Hideaway, Frank Sinatra’s hit, The Way You Look Tonight, and a toe-tapping Latin number.
When they were done, all 11 bowing from the waist, the luncheon audience gave them rousing applause. The dancers, all fifth- or eighth-graders, were: Shae-Lynn Rodgers, Chyna Grier, Shakirah Lidge, Ayannah Harris, Justice Ferguson, Tionne Beasley, Kenneth Amos, Marcellous Sledge, Dashawn Felton, Darren Townsend and Jermane Bolden.
De Vries praised the level of performance in Ohio schools and the Northeast Ohio founding executive director of Dancing Classrooms, Jo Jo Graham, formerly a program teacher in New York City.
“It is one of our most successful programs in the country,” de Vries said.
The ultimate goal is to turn the 50,000 students nationwide who are participating into 500,000 worldwide, he said.
Part of the funding comes from Dancing Classrooms’ New York headquarters, and another part comes from participating school fundraisers, teaching grants, local banks and individuals who wish to contribute.
The Northeast Ohio program has a link to instructions for contributions on its website, www.dancingclassroomsneo.org.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.