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Prettyboy Elementary fifth-graders learn to cha-cha-cha

Prettyboy Elementary fifth-graders learn to cha-cha-cha

Lindsay Ritz said she was freaked out at the thought of getting too close to a boy. Nathan Sakinejad admitted to being nervous about having to put his hand on a girl's waist. Maya Seitz said nobody was excited about lessons in ballroom dancing.

They got over it.

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The 70 fifth-graders at Prettyboy Elementary School went from giggling girls and bashful boys to dance partners.

In one week, they mastered the cha-cha, tango, meringue and swing and performed their new moves for their families on March 30.

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"I really didn't want to do this," said Paul Rapuzzi. "But it got better each day. So, yeah, at the end, it wasn't too bad."

That's pretty high praise from a boy who grimaced and mouthed the word "help" to his friends on the second day of dance lessons when he had to walk arm in arm with a girl.

That same day, physical education teacher Denise Chenoweth went around pulling kids' sleeves up after they were told to hold their partners' hands. It seems some of them didn't want skin touching skin, so they yanked their sleeves over their hands.

This was Prettyboy's first year to participate in "Fifth-Grade Ballroom Stars," a program aimed at developing respectful behavior as well as dance skills.

"We started this program in just two schools six years ago, and now it's in 27 schools," said Suzanne Henneman, Baltimore County public schools dance resource teacher. "Because of television shows like'So You Think You Can Dance'and 'Dancing with the Stars,' ballroom dance has a more popular image."

Prettyboy Principal Sue Truesdell paid for the lessons taught by Christine Cox, a professional dancer. She majored in dance education at Towson University and has taught ballroom dancing at county schools for six years.

"OK, ladies and gentlemen, connect to your partners," Cox said to start the tango lesson. Each dance lesson lasted 45 minutes and kids rotated through partners, so each student danced with dozens of members of the opposite sex.

As she repeated "T.A.N.G.O," while students moved forward three steps and sideways two steps, Cox kept reminding them to look at each other and to keep holding hands.

"Now arms out in front and I want you to go check-to-cheek," she said as loud groans came from the students. Both faces looked in the same direction, but there was a lot of space in between those cheeks.

The students had a recital on March 30. Most girls had on skirts or dresses, and the boys had shirts with collars. There were even a few ties.

Alison and Clayton Seitz attended the 45-minute recital. Both Alison and her daughter, Maya, had undergone a complete turnaround during the week of lessons.

"When Maya first came home with information about ballroom dancing, she wasn't happy and I thought it was a horrible idea," Alison Seitz said. "But the recital was great and the kids all liked it more and more as the week went on. My favorite part was the end when kids danced with their parents."

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