Missouri lawmaker wants dancing option for P.E. requirement

Friday, February 5, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 1:20 p.m. CST, Friday, February 5, 2010
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Columbia residents at Hickman High School share their opinions about the a bill proposed in the state General Assembly. The bill would allow Missouri high school students to take ballroom dancing classes to fulfill their physical education requirement.

*CORRECTION: As a boy, Flook said he remembers learning traditional Mexican dances and others such as the cumbia from Colombia, merengue from the Dominican Republic and salsa from the Caribbean. Since their origins, many other countries have adapted variations of these dances. An earlier version of this story misidentified the origins of the dances.

JEFFERSON CITY — A lawmaker has waltzed into the House with new legislation giving students the option to get class credit for ballroom dancing.

Rep. Tim Flook, R-Liberty, has written a bill allowing students in public schools to take a ballroom dance class instead of a physical education or fine arts class.

"Maybe you're not good at volleyball, or running, or playing soccer, but you could take a ballroom dance course for P.E. class credit," Flook said.

Citing popular dance shows such as "So You Think You Can Dance," Flook said he believes if the option is given, schools would likely offer the class for student demand.

Flook said dancing is more than moving to rhythm or stepping with the right foot.

"This to me is a lot more than a gym activity," he said. "Some of us believe that it really is a good way to develop the culture of respect."

As a boy, Flook said he remembers learning traditional Mexican dances and others  such as the cumbia from Colombia, merengue from the Dominican Republic and salsa from the Caribbean. Since their origins, many other countries have adapted variations of these dances. *

He said he also remembers the stress he had searching for a dance partner.

"Every event in my family involved live music and dancing," Flook said. "I had to learn how to pluck up the courage to learn a dance step and dance with a young lady."

Too many negative outlets exist to promote a "turmoil between the sexes," he said, adding that ballroom dancing will provide a positive and productive outlet for both sexes to interact.

While Flook attended school at William Jewell College, he met political science professor Will Adams, an avid ballroom dancer and instructor, and enrolled in his ballroom dance class. Adams has taught ballroom dance since 1974 and is the president of Culture Through Ballroom Dance, a nonprofit organization offering dance instruction to dancers of all ages.  

Adams said he approached Flook after noticing ballroom dancing wasn't mentioned in talks about improving Missouri's childhood obesity rate. In 2006, Adams and his friend Paula Marie Daub started teaching dance classes during and after school in Kansas City area school districts. The program is a pilot project of what students could take if Flook's bill passes.

Adams said the emphasis on ballroom dance goes beyond physical health. The course teaches students cultural information about each dance. Adams said the most important lessons students learn is courtesy, self-esteem and how to work with the opposite gender.

"The least important thing we teach them is the dance," Adams said.

Flook said he got some of his ideas from Jeremiah J. Morgan, a stake president with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Missouri.

Morgan said the Mormon culture values the benefits dancing can bring to young men and women. He said the Mormon church regularly holds dances to help socialize students, which is especially important during the awkward teenage years.

"The young men and young women can learn to interact," Morgan said. "They get to spend time together and get used to each other."

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Lauren Young February 5, 2010 | 1:24 p.m.

Cumbia, merengue and salsa are not traditional Mexican dances. Cumbia originated in Colombia, merengue is from the Dominican Republic and salsa is from Cuba.

Over all I think this bill is a great idea. Similar programs have worked very well in New York, which is the basis for the film "Take the Lead." I would have loved to have had the option of taking ballroom dance instead of PE when I was younger.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 5, 2010 | 1:50 p.m.

I don't think "ballroom dancing" is the best course for gym class, per se, but I do believe that the idea of dance should begin and continue throughout one's life.
I recall dance festivals being an important learning experience during my elementary grades and never thought to question why such activities were not included in post-elementary years.

(Report Comment)
John Springli February 9, 2010 | 11:50 p.m.

Why would ballroom dancing not be the best course of action for gym classes to take? It is by all means just as athletic as any physical activity out there, maybe more so than some. It all just depends how much you intend to put into your time there.

I for one remember how into football people got when I was in high school gym classes and I know that people could get into dancing if only given the chance. For anyone who says that it is not athletic, thus shouldn't be offered in place of gym, I think you should try it before you brush it aside so quickly.

Not only is it physically demanding, it is also mentally and emotionally demanding as well. You have to think several steps a head of where you are at the current time, but you have to over come the natural inability a lot of people have when it comes to trusting their partner for the dance.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 10, 2010 | 12:59 a.m.

("Rep. Tim Flook, R-Liberty, has written a bill allowing students in public schools to take a ballroom dance class instead of a physical education or fine arts class.")

If the bill was written that "Ballroom Dancing," "Cultural Dancing" or just "Dance" would be included in fine arts class, (as briefly mentioned in the article), Social Studies class or Music class in the public schools, I would have less of a problem with this.
I am just not in agreement that Ballroom Dancing should be the new alternative to Physical Education curriculum.
If "Ballroom Dance" instructors are looking to expand their love of the dance, perhaps they could volunteer to work with the public school system and assist students who desire on site "Dance Clubs," and use the Gymnasium as their ballroom during this extra curricula activity.
How much are Ballroom School Instructors earning these days, anyway?
What happens when some lobbyist group starts to advocate for Martial Arts instructors, and justifies it as an alternative to PE? When does the laundry list of alternatives to standard PE classes end? This isn't College electives or College PE. How many specialists can the public schools afford to employ?
This just seems to me that a specific group of dance teachers are looking for work and are jumping on the obesity issue and the entertainment bandwagon. Opportunists looking at our children as a chance to make a buck and advance their own love of the dance.
If you want to expand this love of the dance so badly, volunteer your services to the public schools. If the children express an interest, they'll come out.

(Report Comment)
John Springli February 10, 2010 | 8:03 a.m.

Other than the fact that football is obviously extremely popular in our country, there is almost no difference in having high school children play football or teaching them to ballroom dance.
The only reason people are against trying this in gym class is because they think it's weird and girly, I remember this from when they had us do two weeks of it every year in my high school in Upstate New York. To combat the students hating it, the professional dancers taught Swing Dancing and Salsa Dancing which is extremely popular nationally and by no means "girly" at all. Then at the end of each class, the professional instructor would plug in a spot advertising if we wanted to take private lessons. I hated it my freshman year in high school, but was hooked by junior year and have been dancing ever since.
I have also personally volunteered at an elementary school program in Albany, New York where I helped teach 5th and 6th graders how to dance six different ballroom dances.
~Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Jitterbug, Merengue and Rumba~
Each of the children absolutely hated it because it was "icky" to touch the opposite sex. When it came down to it, they all became extremely competitive and loved every minute of training for the mini-competition we had at the end between six other schools, and were sad to see the teaching staff leave at the end of the term.
Now what I learned from that elementary program and participating my self through high school gym is that we all may hate the ballroom dancing at first, but for some, not everyone, but for some, if simply given the chance we might find out that we like it and move on to taking a group class at a local studio or even private lessons with a teacher. I don't necessarily think that obesity has anything to do with it, it is just another physical activity for children and adults to enjoy.

(Report Comment)

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