Mad Hot Classroom

Bus driver instructs children how to move on the dance floor

Posted: Friday, March 17, 2006

At Glacier Valley Elementary School, girls are wearing dresses, boys are clamoring to wear ties and the codes of dance-floor etiquette are trickling into everyday classroom behavior.

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Shane Wirtz, a bus driver for the Juneau School District, has taught ballroom dancing for the last 10 weeks as part of an artist-in-residence program.

Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders have learned the meringue, tango, fox trot, rhumba, East Coast swing and electric slide.

"I've never danced any of these dances before," fourth-grader Taytum Robinson said. "My favorite move has to be part of the swing when it's so fast. (The hardest is) probably part of the rhumba. People bump into you and you sometime forget where you were in the dance steps."

"Some of the moves are kind of hard," fourth-grader David Caldwell said. "My favorites ones are the electric slide, tango and fox trot."

The residency is co-sponsored by the Rasmuson Foundation and "Art is Elementary: Making Excellence for All," a program supported by businesses and The Glacier Valley Parent Group.

The program has sponsored visual art and drama projects in the past. Lorrie Heagy, Glacier Valley librarian and music teacher, was inspired by the documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom" to try teaching ballroom dancing.

'heart and sole'

what: a fundraiser for "art is elementary" program.

when: 6-8:30 p.m. saturday; dance workshop with shane wirtz, 6-7 p.m.; thunder mountain big band concert, 7-8:30 p.m.

where: glacier valley elementary school.

cost: $5 per person; $15 for families.

"The etiquette aspect has been amazing," Heagy said. "Seeing how boys and girls interact, go through that initial process of asking someone to dance and how it becomes part of their routine.

"Our hope is that through this year and next year we can collect data from test scores about the value of the arts, and how it motivates kids, gets them inspired, excited and connects them with other aspects of the curriculum," she said.

Wirtz has been teaching ballroom dancing at the University of Alaska Southeast for the last five years. He's also been a guest instructor during gym classes at Juneau-Douglas High School.

"When I first approached them with it, I wasn't too sure, because I'd never taught ballroom dancing to elementary school kids," Wirtz said. "But these students, they just make me smile."

The 10-week program started the second week after winter break. Denton and Heagy showed the kids "Mad Hot Ballroom" before Wirtz began his lessons.

"Were not just teaching kids to do the tango," Denton said. "When you're dancing, you're bringing in so many other areas that are supportive of core areas. There's sequencing, and there's lots of one-on-one correspondence. Those are skills that they'll have for the rest of their lives."

"A lot of the kids who may not succeed in other areas are all of a sudden being asked to dance," she said. "Students who really didn't have the opportunity to shine, are."

After the first lesson or two, some of the girls began wearing dresses to school.

"I said, 'Uh oh guys, we'll have to up the bar,'" Wirtz said. "'They know we're all slobs. Let's all tuck in our shirts.' Everybody tucked in their shirts. Then more young ladies came dressed up nicely, and we had to dress up a little bit. Some of the boys started coming in button-up shirts. Some had ties."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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