Ballroom classes boost students confidence

Barbara McOmber teaches her level-two ballroom class of fourth through sixth grade students at Barratt Elementary in American Fork Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald

Barratt Elementary 5th grader Kysen Weakley believes the Fox Trot is the most difficult dance. Weakley is a member of his school's award-winning ballroom dance program. In January, the Barratt Elementary dancers earned a gold rating, the highest score possible, at the Alpine Team Match (Elementary Ballroom) at Mountain View High School.

Sandra Turner's daughter Jordyn is a member of the school's level two ballroom class. Turner said, "My husband was the principal at Rocky Mountain elementary. They had ballroom dance classes. His students looked like they were having so much fun. I wanted to bring it home to our school."

Barbara Mcomber began teaching ballroom at Barratt Elementary four years ago. She said the ballroom program comes from a marriage between the Danzinskule education foundation and Alpine School District. She was amazed to see how the program has grown. Mcomber said in the early days they had to scramble to get enough boys to join the class and now they have 55 students ranging from fourth to sixth grade.

There are fourteen schools in Alpine district with ballroom classes. For junior high schools who don't have their own ballroom program, Mcomber teaches an Alpine district team which combines students from Lehi, Pleasant Grove, American Fork, and Lindon. In addition to teaching at Barratt Elementary, she also coaches the Deerfield Elementary classes.

Weakley, 10, said he was initially resistant to ballroom dancing. "In fourth grade, my mom said I should try it. I said, 'no' but my mom made me. I didn't like the first two weeks but by the third I did."

Weakley convinced a few of his friends to try dancing but admits sometimes boys will try to give him a hard time. "They say it's a girl's sport. I say, 'If girls can play football and basketball boys can dance.'"

Mcomber said many of the students in her class weren't bothered by the girl/boy divide. "They're excited to dance with their friends from class or the neighborhood. At an elementary level, most team sports are basically separated. This is a unique situation where we combine both boys and girls together to create a team."

In addition to fostering a cohesive team, Mcomber said dancing helps her students to build confidence and the exercise gets their minds ready for demanding coursework.

"They come in the early morning, before school, to do teamwork activities and they create these friendships. Students, who may not get a lot of recognition in other sports, here they come in the door and there's 20 students calling their name and cheering for them," Mcomber said.

Sarah Golightly, 10, loves to dance and is involved in competitive jazz and contemporary dancing outside of school in addition to ballroom. "After ballroom I feel calm and ready to focus on my math," she said.

Ballroom dance trophies are prominently displayed at the school. Mcomber said the faculty and staff are so excited to see their students excel. "Brett Palmer, the principal at Barratt, comes to all our events. It's so key to have a supportive principal."

On February 23, the Barratt Elementary dancers will compete at UVU in ballroom foundation tournament leading up to their participation in the U.S. National Amateur Dancesport Championship at BYU on March 15.

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