By Nathan Duke
A citywide ballroom dance program, which brought a first prize to Douglaston’s PS 98 and captured the attention of two major filmmakers, may not be able to expand to more schools because of city budget cuts, the founder said.
Dancing Classrooms was founded in 1994 by dance instructor Pierre Dulaine as a program to introduce children to ballroom dancing as well as to teach them etiquette. The program, which has an estimated 28,000 to 30,000 participants, is now available for fifthâˆ’, eighthâˆ’ and 12thâˆ’graders in 230 schools in the five boroughs.
Douglaston’s PS 98 won the 2006 citywide competition at which two other borough schools — Bayside’s PS 41 and PS 159 — were also finalists. The dance program has been featured in two films, including the 2005 documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom” and the 2006 film “Take the Lead,” which stars Antonio Banderas as Dulaine.
But Dulaine said he was concerned that the program might not be able to expand in the near future due to the struggling economy and city budget cuts that could result in a loss of funding for arts programs in public schools.
“It’s not that we’ll go out of business,” he said. “But I think we’ll have a struggle next year. People don’t have deep pockets anymore. If you are a school principal with four or five arts programs in your school and you have to cut one or two, then we could be one of those programs.”
Dulaine said he did not believe any existing Dancing Classrooms programs would be cut. But the program might not be able to create any new ones in the foreseeable future, he said.
Sheila Huggins, principal of PS 98, said the Parent Teacher Association at her school had to raise money to pay for its visual arts program this year. The PTA might have to step in to save its Dancing Classrooms program if it is in danger of being cut next year, she said.
“It’s such a beneficial program because not only does it teach children proper etiquette and poise, but it also encourages them to achieve something together through team work,” she said. “At first, the girls don’t want to touch the boys and the boys don’t want to touch the girls because they all have cooties. But, in the end, they all enjoy it. And it opens up different cultures to the students.”
Huggins said students from the school’s program have also danced for the elderly in borough nursing homes. The Douglaston school took the top prize during the annual citywide dance competition in 2006. PS 41 also took home a silver medal during the competition that year.