19.12.06

How to ask a girl to dance and how to tie a tie

I can remember going to dance class as a little kid and god was it boring, I even wore a tie. That tie was a rough awful thing, my dad showed me how to tie a tie, much to his frustration.

Guys are getting it.

At Notre Dame, the girls have a wide range of after-school activities that include kickboxing, chess, sewing, science exploration, poetry, theater, art and mentoring.

Signing up for ballroom dancing at Notre Dame was voluntary. (It was a mandatory activity for the eighth-grade boys at Nativity.)

Estefania Maldonado, 13, an eighth-grader, said she watches "Dancing with the Stars" and also watched a similar show on Spanish language TV with her mom called "Bailando Por Un SueƱo" ("Dancing for a Dream").

She said she participated in the ballroom dancing pilot project last year at Nativity and was interested in learning more dances this semester. "I like the dance where you kick," she said.

She complains that "sometimes the guys don't move. In the beginning they were like robots. They just moved their feet. But now they're getting into it more," she smiled.

Austin Llanas, 12, a seventh-grader, said the harder the dances, the better she likes it. A member of the Young Marines program, she said her master sergeant asked her if she could show her a few steps before the recent Young Marines Ball.

"At first you feel very awkward, but now I feel more confident," said Karina Sanchez, 13, a seventh-grader. But she said she still doesn't like doing turns because "I feel clumsy."

Although both boys and girls felt a bit shy in the beginning - there were sweaty palms, tentativeness about touching and "getting into your frame"- a lot of that has diminished.

"They've come a long way," said Nativity principal Rosario Sanchez. "It's hard, but we believe the interaction between the boys and the girls, both from single-sex schools, is something of value. The boys learned how to ask a girl to dance and how to tie a tie. They learned to be respectful to a partner."

Both highly structured small schools feature college prep educational programs, after-school activities and after-school tutoring and study halls targeted to predominantly low-income Latinos.

Notre Dame principal Mary Garcia-Velez said when the idea was suggested last year for a ballroom dance class she jumped at the chance. "I felt it would be great for the kids to have exposure to dancing and to spend time with the boys at Nativity," she said.

Plus, for Garcia-Velez, it was personal.

"I love to dance and I remember when I was in grade school at St. Jude's we learned the jitterbug and other dances," she said. "I still remember them."

The ballroom dance class started last semester as a joint pilot project at the two schools after Notre Dame teacher Mary Zino, a fan of "Mad Hot Ballroom" and "Dancing With the Stars," asked the Fred Astaire studios about the possibility of doing a class.

Teachers who help out with the class, including Zino and Lisa Buffington of Nativity, confess they like dancing along and learning the steps.

After an hour when class ends at 4:45, the boys, this time with the help of the girls, put the tables and chairs back in place, put their coats on and head out for dinner and study hall.

Monday will be the last dance session for this group. Next semester the eighth-grade boys at Nativity won't be kicking up their heels on Mondays. Instead, they'll be learning to wield a hammer and saw in carpentry class."

Learn how to tie a neck tie with easy to follow video instruction.

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