By Lisa Autz
The gymnasium at PS 101 in Forest Hills Gardens roared with students from nine different schools in Queens, each rooting for their team to win the competition — not of basketball, but ballroom dancing.
The competitors banged on the gymnasium floor while shouting their team color at fellow classmates dancing classics like merengue and tango at the Dancing Classrooms’ Rainbow Team Match Tuesday.
The dancing couples shook their hips feverishly to the steps that have been ingrained in them after four months of practice. After about an hour and a half of couples showing off their dance moves in the foxtrot, the rumba, salsa, the tango and swing, the two winning schools, the yellow team from PS 160 in South Jamaica and the pink team from PS 134 in Hollis, took home gold ribbons.
“I can’t believe I got the gold,” said Kimberly Narain, winning fifth-grader from PS 160.
“Dancing is great, but following the steps keeps up the good work,” said Errol White, a fifth-grade winner from PS 134.
“Twenty lessons, two times a week. Each lesson is about 55 minutes long,” said Jermaine Garden, principal of PS 160 Walter Francis Bishop in South Jamaica.
Garden, a believer in the arts, has had the ballroom dancing program at his school for seven years and believes ballroom dancing helps in educating the whole child. This is the school’s second year to advance in the competition.
After long practices by students at all academic levels, 10 to 12 of the best ballroom dancers are chosen from each fifth-grade class to compete.
“The biggest accomplishment is getting them to even touch each other in the beginning,” said Guirlande Zetrenne, a PS 160 classroom teacher. “They have to learn to trust each other. Some of these children have emotional and social difficulties and it really helps them break down barriers. It’s a great thing.”
Then the work begins on developing teamwork and dedication.
“The whole time they were practicing, it was just the respect that they had for each other,” said Cherl Araujo, the fifth-grade teacher at PS 134.
One student at PS 134 fractured his leg, but another student was able to fill his spot seamlessly.
“We have such a close team that one of the other children was able to step in. They worked so well as a team,” said Araujo.
This is PS 134’s second year advancing in the competition after having the program for about five years.
The program can be for fourth-, fifth- or sixth-grade students and it has become a large part of the culture at these schools.
“The entire year students are anticipating ballroom dancing,” said Araujo.
At Hollis’ PS 134, the Langston Hughes School, a performance is also given for the entire school and fourth-graders are able to see it and become excited about participating in ballroom dancing next year.
Araujo said her students also learn about the dances in class, which has the fifth-graders conduct research on the history and culture of the countries where the dances originate.
“We don’t get much funding for the arts. This program is affordable and the children gain an appreciation for dance as an art. They are able to learn and achieve at such a high level,” said PS 134 Principal Robert Chambers.
Dancing Classrooms is a national non-profit organization that was founded in 1994 to help cultivate social dance in the classrooms. The group is involved in about 200 schools in the New York City area. The 10-week program is designed to enhance social development values such as respect, teamwork, and tolerance to children through dance. The teaching approach attempts to build self-esteem so children have the confidence to respect one another.
The competition cycles are: the borough quarter-finals, borough semi-finals and a citywide semester final. Tuesday’s winners go on to compete June 20 in the borough semi-finals competition at 4:45 p.m. at PS 64 in Manhattan, which also happens to be graduation day for PS 134.
“They will graduate in the morning and dance in the evening,” said Araujo.
The winners of that round can then go on to compete in the citywide competition June 23.
When Blossum Wright, a fifth-grader at PS 134, was asked how she thought her team won, she responded, “I think it was my shaking.”
“We are going to practice even more,” she vowed.