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Articles of Interest » All they want to do is dance, dance, dance!

All they want to do is dance, dance, dance!

Michelle Sherman

GALESBURG - A class that once was a staple of many physical education courses is making a comeback at Churchill Junior High School.

Each day, two classes of seventh-graders chassé and turn their way through a ballroom dance class taught by Churchill PE teacher and coach Scott Rasso. This is the first year for the class offering, something Rasso says grew out of Churchill Principal Bart Arthur's desire to expand the available choices to the students.

"Our principal is very supportive of having a wide array of curriculum," the teacher explained, saying that Arthur approached him last year about teaching the class. Rasso spent about a decade as a professional ballroom dancer, giving him plenty of experience to teach junior high school students some of the skills.

"It's my fifth year teaching and I never thought I'd have this opportunity," he stated.

During the semester-long class, students learn not only the basics of eight different dance forms — foxtrot, waltz, tango, rhumba, cha-cha, swing, salsa and merengue — but also how to carry themselves in a dance space and other aspects of performing.

"When I was designing our curriculum, I wanted to give them enough (dances) but not so much to turn them off," he said. Merengue has been, by far, the students' favorite dance.

Most of the students had little to no dance experience before starting the class, and Rasso has watched them blossom into willing students who pick up on new concepts quickly.

They even have taken to the floor so swiftly that several will be participating in Churchill's talent show before the end of the semester.

Rasso was surprised by how many boys decided to sign up for the course. A total of 15 of the 40 students are male, with boys outnumbering girls in the first class.

"There was a lot better turnout of boys than I would have thought," he laughed.

One recent day, the students spent the hour learning a choreographed cha-cha dance, something Rasso has endeavored not to do too much of. Much of the ballroom dancing his students had seen before the class, such as on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," is choreographed. Instead of that, he wants to teach them how to lead so they can dance with any partner.

"If you know how to lead and follow, you can go literally anywhere in the world and dance," the teacher told the students as they took a break from the choreography. "It's an international language, dancing is."

Early on in the course, students were hesitant to jump in with both feet, so to speak, but Rasso warmed them up. Now, they walk into Churchill's auditorium and automatically wonder what they'll be doing that day. Some girls almost immediately pair off with the boys, ready to shake their groove thing.

Will it be more of the cha-cha choreography, or will they practice swing steps? If Rasso's not in class, will they be watching "West Side Story" again? Will they be rehearsing for the talent show?

They're even so thrilled with the class that they often ask Rasso if he plans a second class for eighth-graders next year. Rasso doesn't yet know if that will be possible, but he would like to teach again. Some students, such as 12-year-old Lyric Harris, have recommended ballroom dance to their friends in sixth grade.

Her favorite dance so far has been the merengue, mostly because one of the songs they danced to while learning the style was by Shakira, "so we actually knew the song," she explained.

"It's cool for me to be able to say I dance ballroom," she said. "You see it on movies, but you never get to do it."