The wildly popular Dancing Classrooms Virgin Islands will soon kick off its third year of ballroom dance instruction in the territory, but this year the program is being run by an entirely new administration.
Dancing Classrooms was founded in New York City in 1994 by champion ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine. As chronicled in the Hollywood film “Take the Lead,” and the documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom,” Dancing Classrooms uses ballroom dances to teach fifth and eighth grade students dance moves, but also self-confidence, self-respect and more.
“Through standards-based, in-school residencies, we use the vocabulary of ballroom dance to cultivate the positive feelings that are inherent in every child,” according to the group’s website www.dancingclassrooms.com. “The maturity necessary to dance together fosters respect, teamwork, confidence and a sense of joy and accomplishment, which we hope to bring to every child.”
Since being launched in New York City in 1994, Dancing Classrooms has spread across the world. Last year, the program served 42,000 children in 509 schools in 23 cities. The program was introduced on St. John in 2009 by developer Bob Emmett of the now defunct luxury resort development Pond Bay Club.
Katie Zaytoun began her relationship with the New York City-based non-profit last year, working as a teaching artist and program coordinator in liaison with Emmett. Zaytoun instructed students at Bertha C. Boshulte Middle School and Lockhart Elementary while also coordinating schedules among the five schools which took part in the program.
This year, Zaytoun has taken over as executive director of the Dancing Classrooms Virgin Islands and Emmett is no longer involved with the program.
“We are starting fresh this year with new leadership for the program,” said Zaytoun. “We have a board of directors and we’re going to be running the program how it is modeled in all other sites. Before it was being run a bit differently and this year we are going to follow the Dancing Classrooms model.”
The Dancing Classrooms Virgin Islands board of directors is composed of A.C. Burgess, Assistant to the Director, VI Lottery; Beth Jones, Director of Development, Gifft Hill School; Yvette DeLaubanque, Development Officer, the Virgin Islands Public Television System, WTJX; Genevieve Ryan, who works for Intrepid Investments LLC; George Marsall Miller, Attorney; Helen Sidiropolous, Dance Teacher for Antilles and Montessori Schools; and Jimmy Gallivan, Managing Director, Windward Capital LLC.
The program will be offered to fifth grade students at all three St. John schools as well as BCB and Lockhart Elementary schools on St. Thomas. Dancing Classrooms VI will follow the 10-week, 20-lesson curriculum developed by the national group and will operate under the fiscal umbrella of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands.
The program meets during school hours for 45 minute classes as part of the school’s curriculum. Students learn eight ballroom dances from different eras including the Merengue, Fox Trot, Rumba and Tango.
“Dancing Classrooms has proven to be a transformation program for our VI youth,” said Zaytoun. “The positive impact of this program reaches beyond the classroom. It affects all participants involved: teachers; parents; the school community and the greater community.”
Just as in years past, each class showcases its talent during a Culminating Event where family and faculty members join in and enjoy the fun. Each class is also invited to the hotly anticipated Colors of the Rainbow
Team Match which wraps up the program and reinforces the principles of teamwork, respect and tolerance.
The major difference in the program this year is that schools will have to pay to participate. Previously the program’s costs were being covered by Pond Bay Club, which is not how the national programs are run, explained Zaytoun.
“The thing that is changing is really how the program is modeled in every other site, which is that the school has to buy into the program,” said Zaytoun. “We will work with the schools and we have a lot of fund raising ideas.”
Each class costs $3,000 with the school responsible for coming up with half and the Dancing Classrooms VI board of directors covering the other half, Zaytoun explained.
“With the board of directors, we’ll be following Dancing Classroom’s proper roles and responsibilities the way the program was designed,” she said. “The program was designed that way for a reason and it’s been proven to work over and over again.”
The Dancing Classrooms VI executive director was still finalizing plans and schedules for this year’s program as of press time, but is already looking forward to the fall semester.
“For this fall, we hope to have the program running for both fifth and eighth grade students at all three St. John schools as well as at BCB Middle School,” said Zaytoun. “For the spring semester, we hope to branch out to more schools on St. Thomas.”
Zaytoun is hoping to launch the fall semester the first week of October. Looking ahead, she envisions the program spreading beyond the shores of St. Thomas and St. John.
“We are in the process of establishing our own nonprofit with functioning board of directors under which Dancing Classrooms Virgin Islands will operate,” she said. “Our vision for the program is to provide all 5th and 8th graders in St. John and St. Thomas with Dancing Classrooms in the next three to five years, with the goal of including St. Croix and the British Virgin Islands in the following years.”
Zaytoun plans to share information about an upcoming fund raiser for the program soon, she added. In the meantime, for more information or to make a donation to the program, check out the website www.dancingclassroomsvi.org.