Chicago public school students 'Having a Ball'

May 14, 2010 10:24:39 AM PDT
Dozens of Chicago Public School students are doing their own version of Dancing with the Stars. For the fifth year, fifth graders from 15 Chicago schools are taking part in a ballroom dance program called Having a Ball. The intensive, 20-week program instructs the students in the International Style of ballroom dance. The program culminates in a professionally-judged Final Competition featuring 50 couples; it will be held at the Navy Pier Ballroom on Sunday, May 23. More than 950 fifth grade students are learning how to dance this year. Participating schools include: Agassiz Elementary, Alcott Elementary, Attucks Academy, Cleveland Elementary, Edwards School, GR Clark School, Hefferan Elementary, Hughes Elementary, May Community Academy, New Sullivan Elementary, Onahan Elementary, Oriole Park Elementary, Perez Elementary, Sandoval Elementary and Thorp Scholastic Academy.

"Having a Ball has become a very unique and beneficial part of the CPS fifth grade curriculum. This is Crispus Attucks' fourth year as a participant in the program and each year I have witnessed my students grow both socially and academically under the guidance of our professional dance teacher," says fifth grade teacher Carolyn Estelle. "The students have become more self confident, some have corrected poor behavior so that they may continue to be a part of the program, and because of HAB, the children truly believe that they can be successful if they "listen", "look", and "practice" -- skills that can be used in all areas of life."

Having a Ball focuses on the International Style of ballroom dance which features a universally-recognized syllabus. It is the most widely danced form of ballroom, with competitions taking place across the globe. Having a Ball instructs students using the Bronze Level syllabus which includes the Cha-Cha, Waltz, Tango, Paso Doble, and Jive. In addition to regular ballroom dance instruction, students will receive 50 minutes of classroom instruction focused on related subject areas, including fitness, nutrition, socio-emotional skills and cultural connections. Having a Ball is one of the most rigorous, curricular ballroom programs in the nation

Having a Ball was founded in 2005 by former CPS Board President Michael Scott, who introduced dance education to CPS as a way to encourage confidence, social skills and exercise in fifth grade students before embarking on their junior high and high school careers. In its inaugural year, Having a Ball was 10 weeks long with dance classes twice weekly in one participating classroom per school. Now in its fifth year, the program has expanded to 20 weeks with dance classes three times weekly as part of the fifth grade curriculum. Having a Ball has instructed over 3000 students in communities across Chicago since its inception in 2005; it is one of CPS's most diverse and far-reaching programs.

"It is incredible to think that HAB has grown from nothing more than an idea, to a program that reaches 950 public school students each year," says Maliwan Diemer, Director of Having a Ball and the Elementary Dance Scholarship Program and a professional ballroom dancer. "We've gone from offering students a short introduction to providing rigorous instruction that establishes dance as an important discipline and lays the groundwork for success in all future endeavors. We instruct students across Chicago with diverse experiences and backgrounds, and the response has been tremendous all-around. "

In the fall of 2008, thanks to support and interest from our school communities, the schools launched a new program, the Elementary Dance Scholarship Program, to offer graduates of Having a Ball the chance to continue their dance education in an after school setting. "I believe that providing an anchor and a healthy option through which they can pursue achievement helps students during the challenging middle school years," continues Diemer. "Not only has the overall level of dancing increased, but so has the impact on the schools, families, and children."

For more information about Having a Ball or the CPS Office of Arts Education, please visit the Office of Arts Education's website.

Having a Ball Semi-Final and Final Competitions

The Having a Ball Semi-Final Competition is free and open to the public and will be held on Saturday, May 22 at the Little Village High School. Each participating school can send up to 12 couples to the Semi-Finals with many schools also sending alternate dancers. Students chosen to advance to the Semi-Final Competition are selected by their schools and are determined by the school faculty and staff in conjunction with their ballroom instructor. Approximately 50 couples will advance to the Final Competition held at Navy Pier as determined by a panel of judges comprised of dance professionals.

The Final Competition will be held on Sunday, May 23, at the Navy Pier Ballroom. Competing students will be dancing the Cha Cha, Waltz, Paso Doble, Tango and Jive, and judges will include professionals from the Chicago dance community. Advancing couples will compete in several rounds until 6 Finalists have been selected. The event is free and open to the public and there will be performances by the CPS Elementary Dance Scholarship Program.

The Elementary Dance Scholarship Program

Following the success of Having a Ball, the CPS Office of Arts Education launched the pilot of its new Elementary Dance Scholarship Program (EDSP) in fall 2008. The program, which seeks to increase the number of opportunities within CPS for quality, discipline-based dance experiences, provides fully-funded, intensive dance training over the course of the school year. Students are selected by audition, which is open to all participating Having a Ball schools, and meet twice a week after school at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Lou Conte Dance Studio. Now in its second year, the program has 24 participating students from seven different schools.

"It is inspiring to witness what a confidence-builder dance can be for these young minds. Classroom teachers have told me that they are amazed to see 6th and 7th grade boys standing tall and carrying themselves with assurance," says Diemer. "They are proud of what they are accomplishing through dance and aren't afraid to show it! It has been wonderful to see the widespread support for this program from schools, families and friends. EDSP is giving students a chance to expand their horizons, grow personally and develop a love and appreciation for an important art form."

Performance opportunities include two in-studio demonstrations and a presentation at the 2009-10 Having a Ball Final Competition.

Summer Dance Boot Camp

Having a Ball's newest dance initiative, Summer Dance Boot Camp, was launched in summer 2009. The first-come, first-serve program is open to students who have participated in Having a Ball during the regular school year. Participating students experience continued, rigorous dance education including advanced ballroom dance, jazz, African, modern, yoga and pilates without cost. The camp is designed to keep students active during summer months in a safe and positive environment.

About the CPS Office of Arts Education

Directed by David M. Roche, Ph.D., the mission of the CPS Office of Arts Education (OAE) is to provide more students with access to a quality arts education with meaningful arts experiences inside and outside the classroom. OAE is a resource for teachers, principals and arts organizations on arts curricula and discipline-based learning strategies, arts integration, professional development for teachers and principals, arts partnerships and arts teaching credentials. OAE is also a passionate advocate of greater funding in arts education.

While the staff advises and manages special projects and city-wide exhibitions, competitions and adjudications, it has also developed the "Chicago Guide for Teaching and Learning in the Arts," a preK-12 curricular map of the major arts disciplines that allows schools and partnering arts organizations the opportunity to align their programs against standards applicable throughout the system as a measure of success.

For more information about Having a Ball or the CPS Office of Arts Education, please visit the Office of Arts Education's website.


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