Tango champion leads outdoor dance demonstration

by Ester Cross | 7/18/13 10:00pm

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7.19.13.arts.ballroom
by Caela Murphy and Caela Murphy / The Dartmouth

Before switching partners, the leader of each partner asked, "May I have this dance with you, please?"

Followers responded in kind. "Of course you may. Thank you very much."

Grant started Ballroom Basix in 2008 with sixth graders in Harlem, N.Y., to help break social barriers between students. Dance instruction can combat bullying by changing the way students interact.

"We live in a world that is increasingly depersonalized," Grant said. "To me, the connection of being hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm and eye-to-eye is so critical to reminding us what it means to be human and to interact with another human being."

Instructors teach students about the cultures from which the dances originate and how to work with one another.

"No one's teaching manners to children anymore," Grant said. "A program like this puts the civil back in civilization. I think we live in a day and age where children need to cultivate greater physical respect for one another."

Sierra Joy Varela, a recent high school graduate and Hartford resident, came to the workshop with a friend after seeing an advertisement in her Zumba class. Though she has danced from a young age, she learned the merengue for the first time on Wednesday and said she enjoyed taking the lead with her partner, who was less experienced.

"It's fun to dance together," she said. "It was pretty cool to switch it up a bit."

A screening of "Mad Hot Ballroom" (2005), directed by Marilyn Agrelo, followed the dance demonstration. The documentary, which features Grant, follows New York City public school children who participate in a ballroom dance program and inter-school competition. Grant was then a teaching artist with the American Ballroom Theater, which works with inner city youth.

Grant, who held a dance class at the Ray elementary school, said he plans to bring Ballroom Basix to Hanover and Lebanon, tackling the "epidemic" of bullying that exists nationwide.

Dia Draper, who represents the Tuck School of Business on the Campus Climate Coalition, which sponsored the event on the Green, said that after student protests in the spring, the coalition resolved to be "part of the solution." Draper said the protests caught faculty and administrators by surprise, and the dance demonstration was an attempt to provide students with "fun and optional" opportunities outside the Greek system.

"We were and are very concerned about the opportunity for students to have recreation that doesn't necessarily revolve around substances," she said.

Draper said that undergraduate engagement with community members can prevent problems associated with substance use. The event was modeled on European and Latin American town activities that bring people of different generations together, allowing intervention among community members when issues arise.

Geisel School of Medicine psychiatry professor Thomas Oxman and his wife Judy Oxman, Hood Museum docent and a former tango dancer, attended the event together. The couple said they like coming to the Green, which they see as a social place that brings people together.