Learning poise through ballroom dance in Edwards | VailDaily.com

Learning poise through ballroom dance in Edwards

Sarah Mausolf
Vail CO, Colorado
HL Ballroom Dancing 1 DT 5-15-08

EDWARDS, Colorado ” To glance at the fifth- and sixth-graders parading into the cafeteria at Eagle County Charter Academy in Edwards, you would think they were headed to a prom.

The girls wore dresses and ballet flats, the boys rocked blazers and ties, and everyone tittered with excitement.

“Gentlemen, walk confidently toward your partner, look her in the eye and ask her for a dance,” shouts Colin Meiring, an instructor with an English-sounding accent.

He presses a button on a stereo and suddenly the room pulses with the romantic classic “Ain’t that a Kick in the Head.”

“Here we go! Fox-trot!” Meiring instructs.

Students lock arms and begin ballroom dancing around the room. Some burst into giggles while others frown in concentration.

Later, midway through the Waltz, 11-year-old Ben Maslan steers his partner precariously close to another couple. “I’m obviously not getting my driver’s license any time soon,” he quips.

Other students count their steps precisely, as if scouts from “Dancing with the Stars” are watching.

In reality, the audience consists of a crowd of charmed parents.

“I wish I had learned to dance like these kids are learning now,” Edwards mother Lauren Anderson said.

“You can see how their personalities are forming, what kind of style they’re going to have and how flamboyant they are and how sedate or how flashy,” fellow mother Jen Gochko added.

The dancing marked the students’ graduation from the school’s cotillion class. Fifth- and sixth-graders learned five dances ” including tango, waltz, swing, fox-trot and salsa ” along with general etiquette like table manners.

Meiring has been teaching the ballroom portion for the past four years. He’s uber-qualified. At 12, Meiring started competing on the ballroom dance circuit in his native South Africa, and by the time he was 18, he had snagged several championships.

He later performed on Broadway in New York City, where he encountered ballroom dancing in schools for the first time. In 1994, New York City schools launched a ballroom dancing program for its inner city youth. It became the subject of a documentary, “Mad Hot Ballroom,” and ballooned into a district-wide program that culminates in a competition. Some New York school officials credit the program with boosting test scores, fostering self esteem and improving manners among students.

The concept left a lasting impression on Meiring. When 9/11 struck, closing down the Broadway show where he worked, Meiring moved to Vail to teach for the Vail Performing Arts Academy. Teachers at the Eagle County Charter School enlisted him to teach ballroom dance.

Meiring said the course teaches children leadership and confidence, along with a life-long skill. Students can use their ballroom know-how at proms, weddings and Ivy league schools, which require cotillion courses as a prerequisite, he said.

The program works best with fifth- and sixth-graders because they are not yet self-conscious about touching members of the opposite sex, Meiring said. “They think nothing of it,” he said.

Indeed, students expressed few qualms about coupling up.

“We know if we dance with a girl, we know we’re not dating her,” Sixth-grader Sebastian Joly explained.

“So it’s kind of just casual and fun,” 11-year-old Larsen Wallace added.

“You know you’re not going to marry them, so it’s fun to just dance with them,” Sixth-grader Abby Domenico said.

Regardless of their gender, students gushed over the program. “It’s really fun,” 11-year-old Rachel Halverson said. “A new experience, definitely.”

Of course, some things are tough when it comes to dancing with the opposite sex, like the height difference.

“Just a minute ago, I danced with somebody who’s, like, this tall,” 11-year-old Mindy Vickers says, gesturing to chest height. “It’s hard because they’re reaching up to your hand and you’re trying to reach down to their shoulder … then you feel bad because you don’t want to squat, but it’s easier.”

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2938 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.

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