St. George’s International School has found a novel way to make young people passionate about sports class.
A curious sight greets visitors to St. George’s at break time. In addition to young people running around and chatting in the playground, pockets of pupils are holding hands and waltzing.
PE specialist and ballroom teacher Sue Cooper is particularly proud to see this. “It’s enthused them that much they are continuing to dance in their own time, which is lovely,” she says.
Ballroom dancing has been a regular feature at the school since 2013 when Sue and husband Gary, also a teacher at the school, introduced it into PE lessons at secondary level as part of an inclusive sports programme. Since then the school has hosted two international Comenius balls with other schools in Europe and now the couple are teaching eight weeks of ballroom each year to primary pupils.
“At first they [the students] are a bit reticent about dancing together. I say ‘you don’t have to get engaged and married…’ It’s about getting them to respect one another, to have a working relationship,” Sue explains.
A number of studies in the US suggest that teaching ballroom and partner dancing to young people helps them develop social and emotional skills. A 2013 study even showed that student exposure to dance and other art forms was linked to improved test scores.
The Coopers are aware of the benefits. Beyond the physical and learning aspects of the lessons, social interaction and etiquette are key. “It means that boys know where to put their hand on a young lady in a way that is appropriate,” she says. To avoid taboos, the roles are clearly defined as “leaders” and “followers”, particularly important in lessons where boys and girls may have to dance in both roles. Older students, meanwhile, have an opportunity to learn leadership skills by assisting in dance lessons at the primary school.
The Coopers are quick to stress they are no dance experts. They took up ballroom just eight years ago.
Riding on the wave of popularity of British TV series “Strictly Come Dancing”, which injected new interest in ballroom dancing, Sue used lottery funding to spearhead an intergenerational ballroom project in Yorkshire. “We had community balls with people aged from 6 to 86 dancing… It was quite emotional seeing grandfathers and granddaughters dancing together.”
She and her husband brought ballroom to St. George’s where the couple noticed a transformation in the young people. “It gives kids who are not particularly sporty in terms of games a real opportunity to shine,” she explains, adding that now they are enthusiastic about PE lessons. Part of the appeal is the fact they teach dance in a non-competitive way. After teaching the basic steps to the different dance forms, young people are then encouraged to dance freestyle.
“It’s not that you need amazing agility, balance or strength,” Gary counters, “anyone can do it.” Indeed, even the parents are getting in on the action--the couple will resume teaching beginner adult classes after school in October.
This article was first published in the May 2017 issue of Delano magazine. Be the first to read Delano articles on paper before they’re posted online, plus read exclusive features and interviews that only appear in the print edition, by subscribing online.