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CPS Causes a Rumba with Successful Dance Program

By Olivia Leigh in News on Nov 2, 2006 6:15PM

One of Chicagoist's favorite movies of 2005 was the adorable documentary, Mad Hot Ballroom, which told the story of New York Public School students who cha-cha-cha-ed and fox-trotted in a local competition with training they received in extra-curricular dance programs.

We were apparently not the only fans of the film, as former Chicago School Board President Michael Scott brought a similar program to Chicago Public Schools after seeing the film. Current Board President Rufus Williams announced last week that the Having a Ball program will not only continue, but will be expanded from 18 to 30 schools. New initiatives will also help students give back, as students from two CPS high schools will be trained to teach ballroom dance to kids at nearby grade schools.

In the Having a Ball program, one fifth-grade classroom in each of 30 elementary schools across the city is selected to learn six classic ballroom dances. As in the New York model, a select number of couples (six in Chicago) will be selected from each school to participate in a citywide dance competition featuring regional, semi-final and final competitions.

Former world champion ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine, who was played by Antonio Banderas in the movie, Take the Lead, co-founded the NYC program ten years ago. He came to Chicago to instruct teachers for the program, many of whom are school employees.

As was the case with children in New York, teachers end up seeing positive changes in students’ behavior and manners. The program includes a character education component called “The Bounce,” which creates “a motivational atmosphere in which students are rewarded for celebrating their individuality, while building a strong team, and respecting culture and its rules.”

If you’re thinking that this sounds great, aside from the brutal chastising that boys must receive, you may want to reconsider. If Mad Hot Ballroom and our own childhood was any indication, young girls love boys that can dance, making them hot little commodities on the playground. Coupled with learning sportsmanship, socialization and discipline skills, we have to agree with CPS principal Mila Strasburg in that Having a Ball is “one of the best programs the board has ever done."