Students take stage for ballroom dancing

In her black leotard and red sequin skirt, Lizette Hernandez was ready to dance.

“I’m a little bit nervous,” said Lizette, 11, a fifth-grader at Versia Williams Elementary School in Fort Worth.

She had an arm around her partner, Coree Telford, 11, a fifth-grader in a matching bow tie.

“I like to dance,” Lizette said. “I just like the experience. It’s fun.”

After weeks of practice and preparation, more than 140 youngsters in grades five and eight took the stage for the Dancing Classrooms North Texas competition. The event took place Tuesday in Texas Hall at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Dancing Classrooms was launched in 1994 by New York City dance master Pierre Dulaine to help educate youngsters about “social awareness, confidence and self-esteem through the practice of social dance,” according to its website.

“It teaches boys and girls how to relate to each other in a respectful manner,” said Terry MacLellan, who was the dance instructor for about a dozen middle school dancers from Mount St. Michael Catholic School in Dallas. “It allows young people to be friends and enjoy themselves.”

Early in the two-hour program, dozens of couples crowded the stage to kick off the first dance.

“I think we are ready for some merengue music,” program director Grace Fleenor told the youngsters. Moments later, the stage was full of swooshing skirts and twirling dancers.

The social development program requires that students spend 10 weeks learning various styles of ballroom dancing, including foxtrot, tango, swing, waltz, rumba and salsa.

Students say the program helps them develop social skills and build confidence.

“It really comes in handy, like at weddings or prom,” said Kristen Gonzales, 13, a student at Mount St. Michael Catholic School.

“It’s been really fun getting into ballroom dancing,” said Regina MacLellan, a classmate of Gonzales’.

Coree’s favorite dance is the tango, he said. “I like it because I don’t have to smile in it, and I don’t like to smile. I like to keep serious.”

Dancing Classrooms has been popular in Dallas and Tarrant County since 2006. Thousands of students have participated from area school districts, including Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Grand Prairie and Hurst-Euless-Bedford.

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