tampabay.com

Fancy footsteps

Kids ages 6 to 15 are learning ballroom dance and etiquette and competing against others in a program for homeschoolers.

By ANDREA WILLINGHAM
Published April 2, 2007


DUNEDIN — Eight couples glide across the glossy wood floor. They're in synch with the beat of the music playing from the radio in the corner.

Is this an episode of Dancing With the Stars?

No, these couples are not dressed in fancy ball gowns or tuxedos. They are in jeans and T-shirts, some barefoot, others in sneakers. And they are kids.

Nearly 20 homeschooled children ages 6 to 15 are taking part in the Florida Homeschool Ballroom Competition Show Team. With the resurgence of the ballroom dance craze, sparked by shows like Stars and its own sophisticated glamor, colleges and high schools have begun offering classes to support the fad.

But this isn't a fad for these homeschoolers.

In the program, students learn ballroom dances such as the foxtrot, cha-cha, waltz, tango and swing, as well as dance etiquette. Students get the opportunity to participate in competitions.

"My favorite dance is the cha-cha because it's fast and fun," says Evan Julian, 13, who is homeschooled in New Port Richey. Evan practices dancing at home with his sister, Adison, 11, who also is on the team. They have competed as a couple twice: In the Tampa Bay Classic they were named the Top Junior Ballroom Couple; in the Spats Continental in Manatee County, they placed third in their age division.

Isabel Bradley, 7, danced with fellow student Chase Hunter, 8, and they won first place in the 6- to 8-year-old division. Isabel, who has been dancing for two years, says her favorite dance to perform is swing, and others agree.

Although the students work hard and have a lot of talent, much of their encouragement and success comes from their instructor, Gina Hunter, who has been teaching ballroom dance since 1979. "They're easy to teach," she says of her students. "They absorb like a sponge." The hardest part is probably when new students join the class, Hunter says. "The girls are afraid to touch the boys, and the boys are afraid to touch the girls. After a couple of classes, though, they're perfectly fine."

The Florida Homeschool Ballroom Competition Show Team offers several class sessions, held on Wednesday in Dunedin and on Thursday in St. Petersburg. The class is a part of the St. Pete Cooperative Homeschoolers (www. stpetehomeschool.com), which offers classes for homeschooling families.

Students on the team are very comfortable with each other. "I really like it," says Heather Hart, 9, who is homeschooled in Lutz. "It's so much fun and I've never done anything like it before. It's amazing."

Andrea Willingham, 17, is in 12th grade and homeschooled in Odessa.

 

Ballroom blitz

Ballroom dancing has become all the rage again. Here are some recent offerings that have added to the fire:

- Shall We Dance? (PG-13, 2004) - Your parents will love this movie in which a bored lawyer (Richard Gere) spots a beautiful dance instructor (Jennifer Lopez) and immediately signs up for lessons.

- Mad Hot Ballroom (PG, 2005) - Students from dozens of New York City elementary schools learn to ballroom dance and participate in a citywide competition in this documentary.

- Take the Lead (PG-13, 2006) - This 2006 film tells the true story of a dance instructor (played by Antonio Banderas) who teaches ballroom dance to a group of troubled high school students in a New York public school.

- Dancing With the Stars - The TV show, which debuted in 2005, features celebrities dancing with professionals.