The seven- and eight-year-olds at Doncaster elementary might not be able to point out on a map the country in which merengue music originated.
But the Grade 2 and 3 students can certainly show off some of the moves associated with the dance music, native to the Dominican Republic.
Last week some 50 students sported bow ties and party dresses, and showed off nearly six months of practise to put on a ballroom dance show for their parents and classmates.
“They enjoy it. Dancing is fun. Like I say to the kids, ‘Soccer is great, baseball is great, but you can play that till about 50. Dancing you can do till you’re 80 or older, and it’s good for your brain,” said Grade 3 teacher Melodie Cohen.
“It hasn’t been an easy sell, especially to the boys. But as we’ve created a dance culture in the school, the boys don’t think it’s so bad.”
This is the fifth year Cohen, a member of the Victoria Ballroom Dance Society, has brought in ballroom dance instructor Wanda Kivett to teach the students.
“It’s a wonderful thing to be able to bring expertise in from the outside and channel it into the kids’ days, into what they’re learning,” Hansen said.
Each year the kids learn one partner dance and one line dance. This year the partner dance is an upbeat merengue style, to a song called “Mi Puerto Rico.” The line dance was to The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata.”
James Hansen, principal of Doncaster, says adding dance to physical education or fine arts curriculum helps kids develop more skills and interests.
“It’s great to have that variety. Lots of kids play soccer, which is really good. And lots of kids play basketball, which is really good. Here’s another piece for kids who have different interests, who also like dancing or who find out they like dancing,” Hansen said.
“It gives them exposure to something new, something that can be a lifelong interest. And it’s a little bit different than what they would normally be doing (in class),” Cohen added.
Due to the success of the annual ballroom dance, this year the school also started an extracurricular dance club.
“Dance is a great sport because it’s something you can do as a lifelong activity,” Cohen said. “It’s a really good opportunity for the kids and it’s fun.”