Thanks to a very generous grant, I have been lucky enough to work with a new elementary school for a month long residency program. I'm teaching each classroom in the school, 12 total, a cultural dance. The younger students are dancing to non-partner dances from around the world and the 4th and 5th graders are all learning merengue, swing, and tango. The staff has been beyond accommodating and helpful to the extent that they volunteered to do a performance themselves at the end of the month long program! It's a dream job that I was very nervous about at first but that has now turned into excitement as I finished my first week and a half.
The Saturday before I began, I received an e-mail from the Behavioral and Emotional Support Team Teacher telling me a little about some students that might need extra support. She asked if DWC had any ideas for students who didn't want to participate in the partner dancing. Between Margot and I we talked to her and decided to see how the students reacted but to have a Plan B in case partnering wasn't going to work. We thought maybe having them be the class DJ or have the teacher or teacher aide be their only partner would be a good solution. The teacher specifically mentioned a 4th grader who was, in her words, terrified to dance in class. We chatted about his specific fears, and she said he was faced with generalized anxiety disorder/extreme panic attacks and that he has displayed severe behaviors with dance in the past and had already displayed avoidance behaviors upon the mention of the upcoming dance unit. With this in mind, I went to the first day of dance on Monday hoping I could help this student overcome his fears.
He didn't show up to school. We weren't even going to meet for a dance class that day - I was there to perform in an assembly to prepare the students, and he was so scared, he stayed home. I was supposed to have him on Tuesday, no show. Wednesday, absent. After the 3rd day, I began to feel horrible that he was missing school to avoid dance class. Then on Thursday, the third day his class met with me, I got introduced to him. The teachers brought him in the hallway early so we chatted about sports, bike riding, the Blackhawks - anything I could think of to keep him from being scared about the upcoming half hour.
When all of the students arrived, I asked them to form "escort" position where the gentlemen escorts the lady into the "ballroom" hand to elbow. He had a "ghost partner" since we had a couple extra gentlemen in the class. So far so good.
Before I met this student, my plan was to start the class off by jumping into the merengue routine they already knew, but I knew now that would be disastrous. The past two classes were spent getting the students over their fear of "cooties" and holding hands to dance as teammates. This student didn't have that acclimation. So I decided to backtrack and have them dance on their own in a huge circle.
I watched this student closely, seeing how he was feeling picking up the movement. I made everything into a game and kept complimenting him specifically saying how quickly he learned on his first day. I got a smile.
Encouraged by that, I asked the gentlemen to form their smaller circle and assigned them their teammates. We rotate like crazy, but my new student didn't know that yet, so I had him dance with his teacher at first, and I stood next to her. So his first two rotations would not be with a classmate. I spent a lot of time reviewing so he could get used to the hand to hand contact with both of us adults. Then, I couldn't hold off any longer. I had to have him rotate to a female classmate. I casually had them rotate and watched his reaction. I heard him clearly ask, "May I have this dance?" And she answered, "Absolutely." They gave each other a "low ten", held on, and I turned on the music. He rotated the entire rest of the class with all of the ladies. And he smiled. I was ecstatic.
Afterward, he got into escort position with his teammate and walked her out of the ballroom. The teachers couldn't have been happier. I was bursting with pride for this very brave student. He overcame a huge hurdle that afternoon. I only hoped he would keep it up the following week.
Fast forward to today. The fourth class of merengue. The moment when the students were to get into "ballroom" position. That meant the gentlemen's hands had to go on the lady's back. Always a big moment. I was nervous.
When the students walked in, I looked around heartbroken because I didn't see him. The gentlemen with ghost partners all filed past me, and my heart sank. Then I saw him. He had a female teammate on his arm in escort position, and he led her to the dance circle. We started reviewing the dance, and he had no problem rotating yet again. The moment of truth - ballroom position. Not a problem. My new hero held his teammate in his arms without any problems.
I've never been happier to be a teacher. And I know I'll never forget this moment. My only hope is, he will one day realize how brave he was and be proud of the progress he made that afternoon.