Ballroom dancing -- with a new twist

MARYLAND JOURNAL

Carroll school's club gives old-school moves a `groovier swing'

October 30, 2006|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN REPORTER

Chris Mayne is almost as surprised as his partner, Sarah Jones, at how smoothly they're moving with this ballroom dancing thing.

Mayne, 17, is the giddy one as he extends his arm while Jones, 15, firmly grasps his hand and as gracefully as possible spins away from him.

"We're good," Mayne, a senior, announced over the music, chatter and laughter filling the cafeteria at Winters Mill High in Westminster.

"I'm so proud of myself," Jones, a junior, said as Mayne reeled her back in.

It appears the two were born for swing dancing. And the tango. And the foxtrot.

It's 3 p.m. on a Monday and the two teens have joined about 40 other schoolmates for a meeting of the high school's recently formed Ballroom Dance Club.

The club is part of a growing trend among teens and young adults - a revival of ballroom dancing, with a modern twist. The teens at Winters Mill said they are learning the basics of ballroom dance and applying the moves to contemporary music.

The resurgence of a dance form normally associated with this generation's grandparents is cropping up on college campuses and high schools across the nation, according to USA Dance, a national organization with more than 20,000 members in about 250 chapters.

"It's a fairly recent phenomenon in high schools," said Ken Richards, spokesman for USA Dance, which plans to hold its national championship in Baltimore in 2008.

Richards said the growing interest in ballroom dancing among teens has taken root during the past three or four years. He said more high schools are creating such clubs, though the organization does not track how many have been formed.

One Florida school integrated its ballroom dance club into the curriculum and began allowing students to receive physical education credit for it, he said.

At Winters Mill High, Kaila Contestabile, 16, a junior, started the club because she said she was fed up with sexually charged dance moves that she called "freak dancing."

She said the school's previous principal, Sherri-Le Bream, had been "laying down the law on freak dancing, [but] students said they do that because they don't know any other styles.

"I wanted to show there are alternative styles of dance that are more positive," said Contestabile, whose grandmother taught her how to swing dance and foxtrot when she was 5. "It also exposes us to other cultures."

The Winters Mill Ballroom Dance Club was started last spring.

This semester, about 90 Winters Mill students are members of the club, making it one of the school's largest groups, Contestabile said.

"I explained we were going to do more than just the waltz," said Contestabile, whose parents taught the club some disco moves last spring.

So far, the club has learned swing, disco and the cha-cha. This semester, Contestabile said, the teens will learn the rumba, the foxtrot and the tango.

"We have a dance of the month," said Contestabile, who is also a member of the school's varsity soccer team. "Some of them are actually getting pretty good."

Senior Maxine Iglich, 17, said she joined the club last spring because it seemed to be a good place to have fun with friends and she liked the idea of having new moves to take to dances.

"You can put your own flavor and style on it," she said as a Jamaican hip-hop sound filled the school's cafeteria and pairs of dancers flitted around doing their swing moves. Contestabile, who couldn't recall the name of the song being played, said it had a "real evident cha-cha beat" that the dancers could follow if they listened well.

"It's a groovier swing," she said.

The group's adviser, teacher Leah Spencer, said movies such as the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom and Take the Lead, which stars Antonio Banderas, as well as reality TV shows like Dancing with the Stars have helped to spark the newfound interest in ballroom dancing.

"More people are realizing it's fun," said Spencer, who takes dance classes with her husband through the Community College of Baltimore County's continuing education department.

Spencer said her instructor at the college has told her that in the past two years, enrollment in the dance class has doubled.

"It's really nice that ... ballroom dancing is making a big comeback," said Spencer, who has taught art and art history at Winters Mill for three years.

The club, which invites dancers of all experience levels to join, has helped to break down social barriers at the school, Spencer said.

"We have a lot of students who might not be in sports," she said. "This is a good place to do something constructive."

At the same time, many members are the so-called jocks - who often must miss afternoon sessions because of sporting practices, but who attend club meetings during school hours.

"And the ROTC kids have a strong presence here," Spencer said.

Contestabile said she attributes some of the club's popularity to teens' desire to do something different than what might be expected of them. She said she would like more schools to create such clubs, and envisions countywide and statewide events or competitions for teens to attend.

"We're doing something from scratch," she said. "And you don't need dance experience."

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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