Bayside school advances in city dance contest

Keri Sullivan; Mary Bow, parent coordinator and dance team coach; Despina Flevaris; Brittany Yacovone; and Noah DeJesus celebrate after PS 41’s team was announced as one of the three finalists from Queens in the city dance competition. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Nathan Duke

Students with fancy feet from Bayside’s PS 41 said they had practiced hard and learned important lessons about etiquette during the 20 sessions leading up to a borough ballroom dance competition they took part in last week in their school’s gym.

Dancing Classrooms held its Queens quarter-final competition last Thursday, when nine teams from the borough showed off their moves as they took part in five different dances, including the merengue, foxtrot, rumba, tango and swing.

Three borough schools — PS 41, Douglaston’ PS 98 and Long Island’s WS Covert Elementary School — took the top prizes last week, which enabled them to go to the Queens semifinal, which was scheduled for Tuesday night at Jackson Height’s PS 69. The borough school that wins that contest will compete in the citywide final Thursday at Manhattan’s PS 128.

The other Queens schools that burned up the floor last week were Little Neck’s PS 221, Bayside’s PS 159, Fresh Meadows’ PS 26, Bellerose’s PS 133 and Flushing’s PS 201.

Students from PS 41, which has won the Queens title twice and took a silver medal in the citywide competition in 2006, said they were ecstatic to dance in the competition last week.

“It doesn’t matter if we win or not, it matters if we have fun,” said Jael Bae, 10.

John Kabbani, 10, said PS 41’s team had been practicing for a month, while Brittney Yacovone, 10, said it taught the students to get along with others.

“Ballroom dancing has been a really fun experience,” Kabbani said. “Every kid should try it. I’m very thankful to have been able to do it.”

Coach Mary Bow said the group took part in 20 classes before dancing in the competition.

“I couldn’t love these kids more,” she said. “We’ve been doing this every day after school.”

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 fifth-, eighth- and 12th-graders in 230 schools in the five boroughs.

“We have more than 200 schools this year and we’ve maintained the same numbers as last year even with the current economic situation because principals realize how important it is to teach all the elements of ballroom dancing,” said Yvonne Marceau, director of new initiatives for Dancing Classrooms. “We teach students to respect each other and have self-esteem. It gives kids who do not necessarily shine academically a chance to shine at something else.”

But Dulaine said last spring he was concerned 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.

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.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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