Strictly improved behaviour is a winner

20th February 2009 at 00:00
Ballroom dance pilot proves a glittering success, encouraging social skills and teamwork

It returned Bruce Forsyth to fashion. It put John Sergeant on the front page of every national newspaper. And now, it appears, ballroom dancing is having an impact on schoolchildren's behaviour.

A scheme, to be launched officially next week, is bringing the cha-cha-cha and the quickstep back into school halls across the country.

Essentially Dance, which has been piloted in 26 schools so far and is funded by the Aldridge Foundation, trains pupils - and, in many cases, their teachers - to choose their partners and trip lightly across the dance floor.

Sue Cooper, the national co-ordinator for Essentially Dance, insists that pupils no longer associate ballroom dancing with church halls and staid tea dances.

"Strictly Come Dancing has changed it completely," she said. "Many youngsters come in and talk about the programme on a Monday morning.

"It doesn't matter whether they were street dancers or games players before: they've completely embraced it."

She says the initial pilot has done more than ensure that each pupil has only one left foot.

"In some schools, boys were worried about touching girls," she said. "It was an issue for about four and a half minutes. Then it wasn't.

"Dancing breaks down barriers between boys and girls," she says. "Boys are tapping girls on the shoulder and saying, `Would you like to dance?'"

James Donnelly, Year 5-6 teacher at North Grecian Street Primary in Salford, said that his pupils danced in same-sex pairs initially, to allay mutual boy-girl suspicion. Eventually, though, they overcame their fears.

"There's a certain etiquette to dancing: how they hold each other, how they talk to each other," he said. "It's breaking down barriers. There's no more `Eugh, I'm not touching a boy.'

"One girl said that she never would have spoken to one of the boys if he hadn't been her partner. But he'd been in her class all through school."

The strict code of dancefloor etiquette has also had an impact on pupils' behaviour.

"We have a lot of children who don't like coming to school," said Mr Donnelly. "But even the disaffected kids want to try something new."

Being forced to work with a partner has also helped improve social skills. Outgoing pupils are encouraged to ask others to dance, shy pupils to accept invitations.

And concentration is regularly tested. "They're so busy thinking about what their feet, arms and partners are doing, they don't have time to misbehave," said Ms Cooper.

Over the next three months, 52 more teachers and classroom assistants will receive ballroom training from Essentially Dance professionals. They will also be given classroom resources, including a step-by-step DVD led by Strictly Come Dancing stars Darren Bennett and Lilia Kopylova, and a CD of appropriate music.

The scheme is also being evaluated by academics from Roehampton University, who are studying pupils' responses to the new lessons.

Jeanne Keay, who is leading the study, said: "It's obviously captured the imagination of teachers. I think the children have taken to it, too.

"From reception through to sixth form, there seems to be something in it for everybody."

The ballroom cause is also helped by the fact that dances such as the cha- cha-cha and the jive can be done to contemporary pop music.

"The waltz didn't go down as well because the music is quite slow," said Mr Donnelly.

"It's not what they're used to listening to.

"But it's not like line-dancing, where you can't see how it would apply to your life. Children see that, at some point in their lifetime, they might have to get up and dance. So it's a cool thing to do."

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