The students at Rafael Hernandez School in Newark are putting their best foot forward.
The school is one of two in the city to partake in the Dancing Classrooms residency, a 20-session course sponsored by the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Under the instruction of teaching artist Lisa Gunn-Becker, students at the North Ward school have been transformed into elegant waltzers, sassy salsa dancers and cool swing cats via one-hour lessons twice a week.
"It's a tool for teaching social awareness and confidence," said Sandra Bowie, vice president of arts education at NJPAC.
The Dancing Classrooms residency was founded by professional ballroom dancer Pierre DuLaine in 2007 and has since turned roughly 2,800 fifth and eighth graders into bona fide dancers. Students across the state are instructed by professionals in lessons on the foxtrot, merengue, rumba, swing, tango and waltz but more importantly learn how to respect one another.
"They learn how to touch each other with respect and look each other in the eye and say thank you and good morning," said Caitlin Evans-Jones, director of in-school programs at NJPAC.
The program held its first-ever Colors of the Rainbow Team Match Thursday night at the performing arts center, a fun-filled competition among students at Rafael Hernandez School, All Saints Catholic Academy in Bayonne, Resurrection School in Jersey City, Greater Newark Charter School and Union City's Hudson School and Veterans Memorial Elementary School, which took first place.
The tiny dancers had to learn three versions each of the foxtrot, merengue, rumba, swing and tango for the Thursday night contest, which included three rounds. At the end, each school received a trophy for their hard work and participation.
DuLaine served as master of ceremonies while teams were judged by an all-star panel of dance gurus, including Paul McRae, the assistant artistic director of the New Jersey Ballet Company, Randy James, associate professor at Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts, and dancer Claire Porter, star of "Portables," a series of comedic monologues.
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