The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 4, 2001

Features

Carlisle School sixth graders acquire skills at social dance classes


The girls brush up on the box step before joining their partners

The young men wear dress shirts with neatly-knotted ties, pressed pants, and their good shoes. Similarly combed and scrubbed, the young women wear dresses or skirts; some have their hair swept up into attractive buns. The young men ask the women for the pleasure of joining them for a dance. The young women politely accept.

Or something like that. After all, most of these young men and women are sixth graders from the Carlisle School, aged 11 and 12. They’re taking a class in Social Dance, and most are probably there because their parents made them.

“May I have this dance?” the boys drone en masse, at the teacher’s prompting. They are careful not to make eye contact with their potential partners.

“Yes, that would be very nice,” comes the intoned response from the girls. No one smiles.

But soon the couples are dancing, executing steps and spins and turns with impressive ease. At this age, some of the girls are at least a head taller than many of the boys, making some of the twirls appear slightly precarious, but no one seems to notice, or even care. In the future, when these students find cause to act on these skills, things between them, height included, will be markedly different.

Teaching respect

“The class is important because it teaches respect. Part of the course is learning how to interact with the opposite sex, so they can feel more comfortable with each other,” says Laurie Pandolfo, the instructor who leads the classes at Ellen’s School of Dance in Bedford. “We stress etiquette and courtesy, skills they can take with them wherever they go.” As for the dance steps, which include the waltz, rumba and swing, “As they get older, they’ll use them at weddings, bar mitzvahs, fundraisers, balls, anywhere dancing is involved,” she says. After the dance portion of the class, students are instructed in general rules of etiquette, including telephone skills, correspondence, receiving lines and proper manners for a fancy dinner (including the all-important “which fork?” discussions).

It’s all about exposing the children to skills they might not have gotten otherwise, says Nancy Anderson, whose daughter Pami is taking the class. Anderson has two older daughters who also attended Social Dance classes as sixth graders. “Even though she might not be able to say she’s learning anything specific, she’s getting a general knowledge of how to handle herself in specific situations,” says Anderson. “Some day, she’ll probably be at a wedding and have a flash-back on some of the steps she learned.” As a case in point, when Pami recently demonstrated some newly-acquired steps to her sisters, the older girls were surprised to find themselves recalling the dance from their own sixth-grade years.

A tradition

Social Dance class is a long-standing tradition for Carlisle sixth graders, becoming such an accepted entity that fully two-thirds of this year’s class of about 90 students are attending the six-week program. On Friday evenings, a bus leaves the Carlisle School parking lot and transports them to the dance school in Bedford, returning them by 7:30 p.m. Last Friday, a surprisingly large contingent of students attended Social Dance class in spite of returning mere hours earlier from an exhausting four-day outdoor education trip to New Hampshire. Several energetic, non-stop types even continued afterwards on to the school dance that evening, making the switch flawlessly from box step to pop music.

Although it may be hard for people to imagine the jeans-and-T-shirt generation dressing up and settling down long enough to learn some social graces, Pandolfo says the students tend to be extremely well behaved. During a recent class for example, there were scattered giggles when Pandolfo realized one boy was wearing the wrong nametag, but this seemed to be the extent of the mischief-making. Once the music started, the students were too busy looking at their feet, counting and murmuring “forward-step-together” to cause any trouble.

Parents and teachers (and certainly, the public at large) applaud the implementation of Social Dance class. But how do the sixth graders themselves feel about it?

“I don’t really like it too much,” confides student Meredith Popolo. “But at least I get to be with my friends, so that’s good.” Her favorite dance—or at least the one she says is easiest—is swing. She doesn’t mind dancing with the boys, “because everybody dances with everybody”. (Pandolfo instructs students to switch partners often so no one feels uncomfortable.) No, Popolo doesn’t practice at home, but yes, she knows these skills will be important someday, so that “if I go to a formal thing, I’ll know what to do.”

During the last installment of Social Dance class on May 11th, Pandolfo plans to do something a little different. Instead of taking the initiative to randomly pair off the boys and girls, (sparing the discomfort of tender egos), Pandolfo will stand back and let the students choose their own partners, so they can have a taste of the real process.

“May I have this dance?” the boys will ask.

And the girls will respond, “Yes, that would be very nice.”

Luckily, this is a sure thing. “The girls can’t say no,” says Pandolfo. “They have to accept.”

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