(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com)
As fifth-graders at the Orchard Gardens School in Lower Roxbury learn math and history, they also are learning how to waltz.
The K-8 school for the past year has partnered with Dancing Classrooms New England, an offshoot of the New York based nonprofit, to help its students not only learn a little ballroom dancing but the manners, the skills, and the culture that goes along with the dance moves.
“It teaches kids to overcome a challenge,” said Andrew Bott, the principal of the school. “We believe that in the end there will be a lot of benefit and that the kids will have learned skills beyond the dance class that will benefit them down the road.”
From merengue to the foxtrot, they're learning many stepsl. But Tatiana Webb, the founding executive director of the program’s New England branch, believes a lot of skills can be learned from the course, and not just the ones that can be used at prom.
“That sense of personal accomplishment and that ability to work with another person and approach them respectfully is a big part of it,” said Webb. “I hope they take from it that feeling of elegance and knowing what it is to stand up straight and present yourself well and approach another person with confidence.”
About a 100 of the school’s fifth-grade students participate in the program. Dancing with partners and learning the moves, the students also discover the history and theory behind them.
The school does have a dance program, but not like the one held in the adjacent Orchard Gardens Community Center.
“I’ve noticed a lot more positive relationships amongst the students,” said Megan Struckel, a math teacher at the school who also dances with the students in the program. “The students are getting exposed to a life skill they usually wouldn’t get.”
As for the students, most were all smiles Wednesday morning as they watched Webb show them new steps.
“I think it’s fun,” said Yanixa Soriano, a fifth-grader. “Not all the kids get this opportunity, so we’re are the lucky ones.”
Even the boys in the class seemed to be having a good time.
“I’m not that good at football and I’d rather dance because no one taught me how to,” explained Kamaru Oseni, a fifth-grader. “I like to swing dance the best. Most of the other dances are serious, but you can be messy when you swing dance.”
Eventually the students will learn the basic moves to a number of dances including the merengue, the foxtrot, the waltz, the rumba, the tango, and swing dancing.
Although the program itself doesn’t concentrate too hard on academics, teachers at the school have incorporated its curriculum into their lessons, encouraging students to research the history and cultures behind the dances and in some cases the math.
“The discipline they learn with the different dances definitely correlates back into the classroom,” Struckel, who has students learn multiplication tables with salsa, explained.
Currently the students are preparing to show off the skills and lessons they learned from the program.
All four fifth-grade classes that participated will hold a recital for the school and their parents in June and the program is expected to come back next year.
“We find what really happens when you put the students together and put them outside their comfort zone is it brings out a maturity they didn’t necessarily know they have and makes them realize you can work together in any difficult situation,” Webb said.