Noise from the otherwise boisterous students falls to a hush before they enter the gym, and they proceed quietly in two’s, arm in arm, and take their places to practice such traditional dance techniques as the waltz and the foxtrot.
“For us, ballroom dance is a tool to teach two individuals (in this case a lady and a gentleman) to physically connect in a respectful and meaningful way and then work together to achieve a common goal,” says Jo Jo Carcioppolo, founding executive director of Dancing Classrooms Northeast Ohio.
After leaving Ohio for New York City, Carcioppolo brought the program to Northeast Ohio in 2008 upon her return. “So we’re working on things like teamwork and respect for one another regardless of your differences,” she says, adding that this change in behavior is largely dependent on the teachers themselves.
Educators in the local Akron Public Schools, like Schumacher Community Learning Center — where a recent class was filmed, note an increase in attendance, behavior and even grades, as there is a curriculum attached to the program. The program, taught by “teaching artists,” also includes student journals, which are connected to common core standards.
Carcioppolo says students often enter the program on day one not wanting to learn the merengue, foxtrot or the various other dance moves taught in this program, but the “teaching artists” quickly notice a significant shift in attitudes. “The culture of the classroom is, they see that shift to this positive and respectful (attitude), a sense of teamwork and a sense of pride,” she adds.
Thanks to funders like Akron Community Foundation, Dancing Classrooms has been launched as a one-year pilot in a number of Akron Public Schools.
For info, visit www.dancingclassroomsneo.org.