Ballroom dancing brings 3 Joliet schools together
By Tony Graf email@example.com June 3, 2012 8:38PM
Performers at last week’s “Evening of Elegance” included (from left) Matthew Sellers and Alexis Samuel, and Amber Bailey and Anthony Booth, of Washington Junior High School in Joliet. | submitted photo
Updated: July 6, 2012 8:43AM
JOLIET — Three schools joined together on one night. They merged music and movement into one moment. They had only one chance to get it right, and they excelled.
Washington. Dirksen. Hufford. Ballroom dancing teams from the three Joliet schools met for the first time May 23. For months, students had practiced at their own schools — trying, falling short, trying again. Each team ran its own difficult course.
Now it was time for three streams to meet one sea.
And the performance was seamless.
“This is it, guys. This is what they’re waiting for,” Washington director Becki Wagnon excitedly told students as they lined up backstage. And with that, the students took the stage like they owned it.
The ballroom dancers performed the grand waltz in the Hufford auditorium. They filled the stage, the floor before the stage, and the long aisles reaching far into the audience. They waltzed to “Dear Heart.”
Young men in black suits paired with young women in violet evening gowns, in flowing gowns of lavender and sunset red. Some ladies wore flowers in their hair as they accomplished their steps in unison. The audience applauded loudly at the conclusion of an “Evening of Elegance” in the Joliet Grade School District.
The May 23 program included a variety of dances, from a variety of teams, before the grand finale.
“I had to learn the waltz, the foxtrot, the merengue and the tango,” said Rickey Herrod, a Washington eighth-grader. “I was one of the leaders, so I had to learn all the dances.”
Cristal Ortiz, a Washington sixth-grader, joined the team at the urging of her mother, and she had a busy spring.
“I did have to leave for soccer. I had to catch up when I came back. Everybody helped me, and I got a lot of support,” Cristal said.
The lessons for students go far beyond the actual dance steps.
“We learned cooperation and overall teamwork, working together,” said Jason Kollross, a Dirksen seventh-grader.
“I learned etiquette and how to be ladylike,” said Chyna Vann, a Dirksen eighth-grader.
Even though the teams made it look easy, it was not easy.
“It was kind of hard. If you don’t know what it is, it takes a long time to get it right,” said Tiara Godfrey, a Hufford eighth-grader.
Godfrey and her Hufford teammates practiced for an hour every Wednesday since January.
“Everybody has to be on the same step, the same move. It all runs together,” said Noah Mitchell, a Hufford eighth-grader.
Wagnon was part of the leadership trio that brought three schools and dozens of students into one effort.
“Every time you see them pull together, it makes you realize: They can step up, become these mature, beautiful young men and women, and work together,” Wagnon said.
“The great thing about dance is it’s all about cooperation and working together to create a finished product,” said Jennifer Ketchman, Dirksen director. “So we want to teach them, not just the dance moves, but also etiquette, respecting your partner, making sure that you’re watching out for each other. All of that cooperation is a life skill as well as a dance skill.”
Julie Krizmanic, Hufford director, credited the student crews behind the scenes — handling equipment and spotlights — as well as the performers.
“I’m really pleased that they rose to the occasion,” Krizmanic said. “They have all kinds of room to grow, but I think they walk away from this proud of themselves.”
Behind the scenes and on the stage, students performed with confidence, even though they were together for the first time.
“I’m especially pleased with the kids because we didn’t get to have a rehearsal. This was all done cold,” Krizmanic said.
And yet the warmth was unmistakeable.
“There wasn’t a dry eye out here with moms. The moms, always,” Wagnon said. “Even the dads get a little teary-eyed.”
Adapting to change
Working with new people. Working under changing and difficult circumstances. Going with the flow and finding new strengths with it. Students will need these skills in the workplace as well as the stage.
“Accepting the change — you’re not always going to be with your same partner that you had. You have to be ready for everything,” said Anthony Booth, a Washington eighth-grader.
“We had to change, with different partners every day. We had to be patient, and be ready for all the new dances we had to learn, because these are not dances that you do everyday,” said Amber Bailey, a Washington seventh-grader.
Matthew Sellers, a Washington seventh-grader, found the steps difficult at first.
“I kept doing it every day. We practiced at lunchtime and at gym time, and then sometimes I’d do it at home, too,” he said.
Alexis Samuels, a Washington sixth-grader, learned the merengue at her grandmother’s urging. However, when the big night arrived, she had to learn the foxtrot as well, to fill in for an absence.
“I was very surprised because my partner helped me, and I understood it,” she said.
After the show, the sharp-dressed students met the press for backstage interviews. Somewhere in the heights of the auditorium, “The Blue Danube” played as it flowed gently to the sea.