Courtesy & dance, hand in hand

Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School students learn manners and merengue

Posted: Friday, October 12, 2007

When sixth-grader Julian Minne walks across the Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School commons to pick a dance partner for the tango, he seeks a lady that looks good and follows the steps well.

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"And not too tall," Minne said.

Minne and five other "gentlemen" spent an hour Thursday outnumbered two-to-one by "ladies" in an after-school ballroom dancing program.

Dance instructor Shane Wirtz said there is a benefit to that ratio: During a merengue the steps allow a gentleman to dance with two ladies.

In Wirtz's class the students are always ladies and gentlemen. Manners are part of Wirtz's secondary mission while teaching dance.

"The precious thing is teaching a whole new generation of courteous adults," Wirtz said. "It starts here, then the teachers see it in the classroom, and then it's seen at home."

"Chivalry is back when you watch," Barb Mecum, Dzantik'i Heeni principal, said.

Twice a week, students from the middle school meet in the commons to learn tango, merengue, swing and foxtrot along with the 22 steps of the 1970s disco favorite, the electric slide.

Mecum said the new program is popular with a cross section of middle school students. A few weeks into the program, the roll call has reached 49 students.

Sally Donaldson, Dzantik'i Heeni school counselor, said she has heard students talking about ballroom dancing in the halls.

Unlike dance class in the elementary schools, Dzantik'i Heeni's ballroom class is not required. The students come because they are interested in it.

Sixth-grader Bethany Carlile said her interest stems from the Auke Bay Elementary physical education dance class.

"I liked it last year," she said.

Donaldson said the program was born through a city youth activity grant to encourage healthy after-school activity.

She said Mayor Bruce Botelho has been in the class a few times to volunteer when the ladies are without enough gentlemen for dance partners.

Precisely at 4 p.m., Wirtz stood in the center of the commons wearing black and white wing-tip dance shoes.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please join me on the dance floor," he said.

Courtesy is key, and Wirtz asks the gentlemen to applaud the ladies for their appearance and then reverses the idea before having his students warm up with a merengue.

The ladies slip across the dance floor, introduce themselves and ask for a dance.

Eighth-grader Kasie Johnston said the after-school dance class is a great way to connect kids to school.

"It gets us involved," she said.

Piping in with another motive, seventh-grader Thelea Savlick said, "Plus, the boys will know how to dance at the eighth-grade dance."

Throughout the class, Wirtz danced along with his student pairs, encouraging them to have fun along with keeping the proper timing and making the right moves, always addressing them as sir and ma'am.

"They like having an adult treat them with respect," he said.

The after-school program runs through November and ends with a celebration in which the students come "dressed to the 10's" and have a chance to teach their parents.

Sending his ladies and gentlemen off for the evening, Wirtz encouraged them all to share the dances with parents and siblings.

"Show the foxtrot to your grandmother, and you'll win her heart for a long time."

• Contact Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or greg.skinner@juneauempire.com.



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