Last Thursday was one of my favorite nights of the year, the Blaine School Tea Dance. This is an incredible school-wide dance program that Dancing With Class has been involved with for the past three years. It is different from many of our other programs thanks to the initiatives taken by faculty and parent leaders at the Blaine School.
Rather than culminating in a competition, the final goal is a major performance that is a highlight of the year for the students.
Every homeroom in grades 5-8 learned and performed a fully choreographed dance in a different genre celebrating one of the school's annual themes, "Unity Through Diversity." Nicole and I worked with ten different classrooms over several months to tailor and polish a performance for each group of students. The school then rented space at Chicago's historic Aragon Ballroom to allow the dancers to perform in front of thousands of parents, teachers, family, friends, and faculty.
The performance began with one of my fifth grade classes dancing Charleston to "Sweet Georgia Brown." Ms. Hollingsworth's class learned about the dance's roots in the American South and its influence on genres like Lindy Hop and Swing. They looked adorable in bright swing costumes complete with bow ties and suspenders for the boys and skirts and Keds for the girls, and they danced with joy and flair that would have made Shorty George proud.
The next piece was Nicole's seventh grade foxtrot to Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me To the Moon." I was so impressed with her students' timing, frame, and ability to execute difficult ballroom moves while changing formations. The ladies and gentlemen in Ms. Nash's class danced with finesse and polish that rivals most adult ballroom amateur performance troupes I have seen.
This was followed by my sixth grade disco piece danced by Ms. Wininger's classroom. I adore all of my classes and all dances I teach, but disco is always one of my personal favorite genres because to dance it you have to be unashamed of having fun. My class embraced this aspect of the dance from day one, and all throughout their performance to "Shake Your Groove Thing" their energy and enthusiasm was infectious. I had a hard time keeping still!
After these three North American dance genres we traveled through Latin American dance history, beginning with Nicole's eighth grade Afro-Cuban piece performed by Ms. Pagel's homeroom. This piece blew me away! I was astonished at how Nicole brought out the characters of African lamba, Caribbean merengue, and Brazilian samba body movements from her dancers. Their wholehearted embrace of the dance created an entertaining and beautiful experience to the Afro-Cuban funk/jazz song "Che Che Cole."
We continued through Latin America to Mr. Mills' sixth grade class performing bachata. I really enjoyed working with this group. They pulled together as a classroom and helped each other master the movements. Dancing to a bachata version of "Stand By Me," they impressed me with their ability to dance in unison and connect to the music, their partners, and each other. I can't wait to see how this group grows in future years!
Nicole's sixth grade rumba classroom performed to one of my favorite songs of the night, "You Are the Sunshine of My Life." Although rumba is a slower dance, it is actually difficult for most young dancers to master because they have to develop patience in order to avoid getting ahead of the music. The class impressed me by pulling everything together and creating a final image dancing in a circle where all of the dancers stayed in unison. I know that wasn't easy to do, and they should be so proud of their accomplishment!
Mr. Clancy's seventh grade classroom danced a country two-step to "Stuck Like Glue." This is another deceptively difficult dance because the basic rhythm is syncopated rather than keeping a predictable straight count and the music is very fast, so it is very easy to fall off beat. My dancers looked fantastic in brightly colored country costumes complete with cowboy hats and boots. And that's not to mention their fantastic job dancing a very difficult piece complete with traveling steps, staggered fugue sections, and country line and square dances complete with several partner changes.
Nicole's fifth grade dancers from Ms. Pike's class performed a flamenco inspired paso doble to "Bamboleo." What a surprise to see such poise and style from such a young group of dancers! Flamenco timing and arm styling are notoriously difficult even for experienced dancers, but her class looked fantastic on both counts.
Continuing through Europe, I had the pleasure of choreographing Ms. Bianciotto's fifth grade class in a waltz set to "If I Ain't Got You." What classy young ladies and gentlemen! I felt every single dancer in this class had so many strengths, and they came together to create a performance that was absolutely heartwarming. My favorite moment had to be the final pose, when all of the fifth graders stunned their parents with a dip and final stage pose.
My final group of dancers brought us to South Asia for a Bollywood performance to one of my favorite Bollywood songs, "Desi Girl." Ms. Seibel's eighth graders had a difficult set up for a partner dance since there were almost four times as many ladies as gentlemen! Luckily, Bollywood allowed all of the dancers to remain a part of the dance whether they had partners or not. They learned movements from classical Indian styles like bharata natyam and belly dance as well as more contemporary jazz and pop dancing. The final performance was a fun and high energy close to the evening's performances.
Finally, one gentleman and one lady from each classroom returned for a grand finale inspired by salsa rueda dancing set to Shakira's "Waka Waka." I loved watching dancers from every classroom and every grade level dancing together. The older dancers helped the younger dancers through the dance steps while the younger dancers absolutely stepped up to the challenge and looked every bit as polished as their older peers. My favorite moment was towards the end of the dance, when all several hundred dancers stood up in their places and joined in the dance. What better way to demonstrate unity through diversity?
I am so proud of all of the dancers, whether I got to work with them from day one this year or whether I first saw them dance during the last week's rehearsals. I cannot express enough gratitude to all of the faculty, teachers, and parents at Blaine who work to make this incredible experience happen for their students. I know it is something they will remember all their lives and I am humbled and thrilled to have been a part of it. Thank you all, and see you next year!