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Dancing from classroom to ballroom

Jr. high students practice for High Desert competition

Posted: March 14, 2009 1:43 a.m.
Updated: March 14, 2009 4:30 a.m.

Twelve-year-olds Anthony Tohill and Paige Ellyson, seventh-graders at Placerita Junior High School practice their tango routine.

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The two couples stood across from each other and remained still until the music turned on.

Then the beat filled the dance studio at Placerita Junior High School Thursday afternoon as the junior-high-aged boys and girls took their partners' hands and began the quick-paced merengue dance.

Their classmates sat against the wall-length mirrors, clapping to the beat.

Girls in formal dresses swung their hips. The boys in their suits guided their partners through twists while trying not to miss a beat.

It was the last dress rehearsal before the High Desert Dance Classic competition today. During the contest seven couples will test their merengue, tango, cha cha, waltz and West Coast swing skills for the first time.

Placerita Junior High is the only school from the William S. Hart Union High School District to participate in today's contest.

The students got their first taste of ballroom dancing through their P.E. classes.

Then their teachers learned about Dancing Feet, a youth ballroom program that exposes youngsters to ballroom and Latin dances.
"We just jumped on it," said Tammi Sucheck, Placerita dance teacher.

Sucheck and Kristin Burrill, a Placerita P.E. teacher, first had to learn the dances themselves, spending three weekends in the Antelope Valley attending classes led by professional dancers.

With guidance from the two teachers and help from an instructional DVD, the 14 seventh- and eighth-graders spent Tuesdays and Thursdays of the last eight weeks at the school's dance studio rehearsing their dance moves to a soundtrack of songs used during the competition.

While students learned all of the dances, they spent recent weeks specializing in one dance for the competition. The alternate couple had to learn every single one.

"I think they're learning a lot about etiquette and how to dance with a partner," Sucheck said.

Spending hours with a dance partner offers another benefit for the junior high school kids.

"It helps them get over their fear of the opposite sex," Sucheck said.

Not to mention the self-esteem boost the students receive with every practice, Burrill said.

Students on the sidelines cheer and congratulate their peers with every dance.

"I think they've matured a lot," Burrill said. "They have a new respect for each other. They root for each other."

Students spent weeks perfecting their dances and soon developed their favorites.

"I like the waltz, but the tango is my favorite," said 13-year-old David Van Name.

While he is a little nervous for today's competition, Van Name hopes his fears will disappear once he hits the stage.

Seventh-grader Ambrosia Kelly, 13, takes dance at Placerita, which got her interested in the ballroom lessons.

"I definitely like the dress and shoes. My partner is good too," she said.

She hopes her dance lessons lead her to a career as a choreographer, backup dancer or dance teacher.

The weeks of lessons taught her more than how to step on a dance floor.

"If you just keep trying, you can definitely do it," she said.

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