Kids learn old school moves
Ballroom dance class prepares students for competition May 18
By KENNETH C. CROWE II, Staff writer
Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Thursday, May 8, 2008

TROY -- Amber Woerner watched the 16 fifth- and sixth-graders making their way around the gym floor at School 16, yelling encouragement and correcting their form.

"That's so much better," Woerner said after two of the students raise their arms to the proper position.

This is competitive ballroom dancing. After months of practice, the students made the final preparations for their big competition. They will compete in the second annual Dance Crazy Competition from 1 to 4 p.m. May 18 at Goff Middle School.

"The fox trot is tough because you have to keep your arms up," said Woerner, a professional ballroom dance instructor working for Dance Crazy, a nonprofit organization encouraging ballroom dancing.

And, she said, with young students, there is the additional hurdle of persuading them to stand closer to their partners.

Woerner is tutoring the students in the fine points of the fox trot, cha-cha, rumba, tango jitterbug. At a recent practice, the would-be dancers wore the shoes they planned to use in the competition.

"I feel like a platypus," sixth-grader Damian Fleming said of his black dress shoes.

Despite the shoes, Damian found reason to enjoy himself.

"My mother always made me do the dances with her," he said. "I like it."

Damian practiced the cha-cha with his dance partner, fifth-grader Morgan Mansourian.

"I thought it would be fun. And it is," she said.

Damian and Morgan ended up in the class after fifth-grade teacher Judy Kapila learned about the Dance Crazy program.

"We need civility to be put back into our schools," she said as she watched the students dance.

Kapila said she has two left feet when it comes to dancing. But she said the ballroom dance program would allow students to become comfortable with dancing and build the confidence needed to take on other challenges.

"What I look at here is how the kids begin to respect each other," she said.

Kenneth C. Crowe II can be reached at 454-5084 or by e-mail at



Students hit the dance floor


By TREVOR JONES, Special to the Times Union

First published: Friday, March 28, 2008

COHOES -- After 10 weeks of training, fifth- and sixth-graders from two local schools will put on a demonstration this Saturday night to show off their new dance skills

Students from Rensselaer Park Elementary in Lansingburgh and Public School 16 in Troy will preform tango and swing dances as part of a dance gala being held at the Ukrainian American Citizens Club in Cohoes at 7 p.m. Saturday. The show will also feature performances by national dance champions and several other local ballroom dancers.

The students, who also learn the cha-cha, rumba and fox trot, are part of a program offered in 10 local schools by Dance Crazy, a nonprofit organization established to teach ballroom dancing to local youths.

This will be the third and final public demonstration before students are selected to compete in the second annual Dance Crazy Ballroom Dance competition in May. Organizers view this as a chance for the students to display what they have learned and adjust to performing before a crowd.

Dance Crazy was established by local dancers after seeing the success of a similar program in New York City called Dancing Classrooms. The goal of the organization is to improve self-confidence, respect for others and physical education through ballroom dancing.

The organization is made up of 40 volunteer ballroom dancers and five paid professional dance instructors. More than 370 students have taken part in the program since its inception three years ago.


The Sunday Gazette

(Schenectady Gazette)


Front Page

May 6, 2007


Students spread dance fever at school competition

Volunteer program teaches ballroom skills to kids

By R.J. Kelly, Gazette Reporter

It was dancing with the students on Saturday, but to the crowd of screaming family members and supporters, the fifth- and sixth- graders could have been on the hit ABC television show “Dancing With the Stars.”

The 12-member team from Yates Arts In Education Magnet School, where the regional event was held, took home a 5- foot 8- inch trophy that was taller than most of the 72 competitors from six Capital Region school districts.

The volunteer program, inspired by the documentary movie “Mad Hot Ballroom,” aims to use the fun and discipline of dance to help students improve their academic and social skills, according to organizers.  Run by Dance Crazy, a network of coordinators and coaches who are area ballroom dancing studio instructors and students, the organizers volunteer their expertise to school districts interested in offering dancing for student enrichment.

Clutching a tiny microphone, emcee Susan Robbiano struggled to make herself heard over the din in the small Yates gym jammed with about 200 people Saturday.  The sight of the colored sashes of teams of six couples each were enough for cheers and applause to erupt as the dancers took to the floor to twirl to the rhythms of the jitterbug, tango, cha-cha, rumba and foxtrot. 

Looks of serious concentration shifted to broad smiles as the music for each of a series of two-minute dances began.

“I usually don’t enjoy this kind of stuff,” said Malik Pompey, 11, after jitterbugging with his Yates team, “but it’s really fun.”

Like many of the enthusiastic parents Saturday, Martha Valentin nervously watched and cheered before hugging her 11-year-old son, Anthony, after his dance with the Yates team.

“It’s a great motivation,” Valentin said.  After a couple of months of dance practice, her son “concentrates more in class.  Before, he wasn’t as focused.  They should do this every year.”

The program has been developed over the past two years, according to Robbiano, president of Dance Crazy, but this was the first competition.  The Yates school will keep the trophy until next year’s event.

“The kids are growing in their confidence,” said Andrea Isaacs, a volunteer

administrator of the program.  It helps participants with social skills and builds relationships, she said.  “The boys and girls are talking to each other.”

Saturday’s runner-up was a team from the Albany School of the Humanities.  Other teams came from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School in Schenectady, Albertus W. Becker School in Selkirk, Ichabod Crane in Valatia, and the Pieter B. Coeymans School in Coeymans.

Local celebrities will help raise money to keep the program going at a “Dancing with the Albany Stars” competition planned for June 3 at the Albany Marriott hotel in Colonie.  Regional television and radio personalities will test their dancing skills, according to Jennifer Girard, artistic director for Dance Crazy and one of the professional dance coaches helping the students.

Judging from the amount of jumping up and down Saturday by the Yates school team, winning was great.  But even the semi-finalist ribbons elicited mini-celebrations around the room.

“It kind of puts life in perspective,” said Leslie Valencia, one of the three judges.  “You get so caught up in paying bills and things…To see all these people come out, it just blows me away,” she said.

Reach Gazette reporter R.J. Kelly at 234-7788 or .


                                                                                                 From The Troy Record

February 11, 2007

By Kathryn Caggianelli

Troy Record Reporter

They’re crazy for dancing


ALBANY- Fifth and sixth grade students in five Capital District schools are learning how to do the Jitterbug-and they’re loving it.

A program called Dance Crazy is making it possible for 200 students in area schools to learn the steps of everything from the Jitterbug to the Tango.  Professional dancers and the students’ own classroom teachers jumped at the chance to get out on the floor and strut their stuff.

Terry Hettesheimer teaches fifth grade Language Arts at the Albany School of Humanities on Whitehall Road.  She was only too happy to get involved.

“Arts and education are particularly important and are integrated into the curriculum.  There are so many advantages to offering ballroom dancing, like socialization, physical education, movement and dance,” she said.

Students showed lots of interest in the program right from the beginning.  It became necessary for Hettesheimer to create a waiting list after the first 30 applicants.  And before the program could get off the ground the teachers had to take a crash course, she said.

“All of the teachers volunteer their time to be part of this.  And the kids are phenomenal,” Hettesheimer said.

Perhaps one of the most entertaining aspects of the program is watching the boys and girls get over their reluctance to hold hands and embrace their partners, she said.

“Now they don’t even blink.  They’re absolutely adorable to watch,” Hettesheimer said.

The Jitterbug, the Rumba, the Tango and other Latin dances are just a few the kids are learning.  So far, the Jitterbug is getting high marks.

“I thought it would be cool and unique to learn how to do it,” said 11-year-old Tyler Stempsey, a sixth-grade student from Albany.

Stempsey admitted the Jitterbug was his favorite and said having fun was part of the plan.

Before ballroom dancing came to the school Nytiah Jackson, 11, only knew what Hip Hop was.  The program has broadened her horizons.

“I like it because I like to dance.  The steps are different; the music is different, too.  We’re bouncing when we do the Jitterbug.  I’ll probably keep doing ballroom dancing as an adult,” she said.

Sofia Lesko, 10, signed on because she thought learning ballroom dancing would be ‘a really cool thing to try.’  She had taken ballet lessons in the past.

“The Jitterbug is my favorite because we learn so many steps,” she said.

Lesko was shy around boys before she started ballroom dancing but changed her outlook after the first lesson.

“My parents think this is a really good program and that we’re lucky to be part of it because not many schools have it,” Lesko said.

Dance Crazy, Inc. is in its second year and has enrolled more than 180 students so far, president and founder Susan Robbiano said.

She modeled it after Dancing Classrooms, a similar program being offered in New York City currently in its twelfth year that was featured in a documentary titled “Mad Hot Ballroom.”

Dance Crazy runs January through May in area schools and was launched in 2006 with assistance from Jennifer Girard, owner of an Arthur Murray Dance School franchise in Latham.

“So many enthusiastic teachers wanted to give this to their students,” Robbiano said.

Robbiano, 44 volunteers and five paid professional dance instructors raise the money to offer 10-week programs free-of-charge in area schools.  They help lay the groundwork for the program so schools can function independently if they choose to do so the following year and beyond.  The schools must do their own fundraising to offer the program longer.  Once students complete the program they’re eligible to participate in inter-school competitions.  Dance Crazy plans to hold its inaugural competition May 5th at Yates Magnet School in Schenectady.  The program’s major fundraiser is the annual Dancing with the Stars, which raised $11,000 last year and funded programs this year at the Albany School of Humanities, Martin Luther King Magnet School and the Yates Magnet School in Schenectady, P.B. Coeymans Elementary School and A.W. Becker School in Selkirk.  The event this year is slated for June 3 at the Albany Marriott on Wolf Road in Colonie.

“Businesses and organizations across the county have volunteered gowns, artists, and shoes in the past,” she said.

An upcoming dinner dance on April 17th at the Franklin Plaza Ballroom in Troy is open to the public.  Tickets are on sale now and only 250 seats are available.

Robbiano and her staff only work with a school for one year.  For more information go to .


From The Schenectady Gazette

February 1, 2007

By Wendy Liberatore

Gazette Reporter

Cool Moves in School

Students dance ballroom style, learn social skills, win friends

SCHENECTADY- After seeing the movie “Mad Hot Ballroom, Sue Robbiano knew what she had to do.  She was bound to cultivate a passion for dance in children. By teaching kids ballroom dancing, she believed, as in the movie, children’s behavioral problems would dissolve.  Even kids steeped in poverty would find hope.  In short, she was determined to recreate locally the public school program documented in the film.

              “I thought, I can do this.  I know all the ballroom dancers around.  I needed a lot of volunteers, some fund-raisers and schools that would do it,” said Robbiano, a ballroom enthusiast who lives in Burnt Hills.  “Most people thought I was crazy.”

              She started with two useful volunteers:  Jim Apicella, owner of Danceland Boomers in Colonie, and Jennifer Girard, owner of the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Latham.  Apicella offered his room for her first events; Girard agreed to write the syllabus.  Robbiano accepted both offers and Dance Crazy took its first tentative steps.

              In its inaugural year, two schools participated: Van Rensselaer Middle School and Ichabod Crane School.  This year, five schools are dancing:  Martin Luther King Magnet School and Yates School in Schenectady, Albany School of Humanities in Albany, Coeymans Elementary School and Beck Elementary School in Selkirk.


              The program mirrors that of the film.  Thirty fifth and sixth graders, or 15 couples per school are taught the fox trot, rumba, cha cha, swing and tango.  After 10 weeks of lessons, instructors select six of the most proficient couples for six more weeks of lessons.  In May, these chosen few compete on school teams with hopes of snagging the Dance Crazy championship title and a year-long hold on a coveted trophy.

              Robbiano said that convincing the schools was the hardest part.  Once the schools were on board, the children signed on-some eagerly and some apprehensively.

              “When we went to sign up kids, not very many signed up,” said Catherine Walroth, the music teacher at the King school.  “So I showed them the movie ‘Mad Hot Ballroom’ and 43 kids signed up.  I think they realized that kids like them, not just the prim and proper kids, can do this, that it doesn’t matter what race they are or how much money they have.”

              At Yates, the students didn’t need as much prodding.  Students there are taught an arts-in-center curriculum and have had a lot of experience dancing.  Richard Roe, a teacher and the program coordinator at Yates, said the school was attracted to Dance Crazy because it would nurture civility. 

              “Learning how to respect each other is a huge issue throughout the country,” said Roe.  “This is a great way to approach it.  The kids are learning, with structure, interpersonal life skills.  It gives them a little grace, style and social know-how.  And they are also learning how to perform something out of their comfort zone.

              While the King school accepted every willing student, Yates auditioned its participants.  Roe, Girard, Dance Crazy’s Artistic Director and the school’s dance instructor, and Barbara Bachus, the school’s physical education teacher, trimmed down the field to 30.

              “The children were extremely eager to learn to dance,” said Bachus.

              The students at Yates are thriving.  On a recent Thursday, Girard was guiding them through the syncopated steps and glides of the fox trot.  They performed it haltingly, but correctly.  They were far enough along that Girard asked them to work on the frame, how the boy must hold the girls back securely, “so she doesn’t fly away.”  She also gave them tips on connecting with their partners.

              “Ask them their name.  Now ask them about their favorite color.  Why is that their favorite color?  Ask them when their birthday is.”

              One boy said: “Today is my birthday.”

              “It is?,” asked Girard.  “Happy birthday.  See, you are learning something about your partner.”

              At the King school, instructor Bob Englert is keeping the students on their toes by only giving them bits of three or four different dances each session.

              “If they were adults, we would spend an hour on one step. But I don’t want them to get bored,” said Englert, a DJ and dance instructor for 10 years in Latham.  “I work on the footwork first.  Then we will work on the frame and technique.  I haven’t told the boys about leading, that it’s harder to lead than follow.  I don’t want to scare them.”


              So far, Englert is impressed.  After a decade of teaching adults, he says the fifth and sixth-graders are picking up the steps quickly. 

              “It’s a lot easier to teach them at this age.  Nothing seems hard for them,” said Englert.  “They are dancing really well.”

              Still, when you bring a group of kids into one room and ask them to move in synch, stumbling is inevitable.  Owen Lewis, a sixth-grader at King, said his partner sometimes steps on his feet.

              “She dazes off and doesn’t pay attention,” he said.

              King also has the challenge of a skewed boy-girl ratio.  The class is top-heavy with girls.  Some of the girls hang back, too timid to grab the hands of the few available boys.  Christina Carrie, an 11-year-old at King admitted it was a problem.  “Some of the boys don’t like to dance with you if you are ugly or too skinny or too short.  But you have to dance with them if you want to be in the finals.”

              Volunteer instructors, such as Bob Tomlinson of Schenectady, draw out the wallflowers and shisk them around the dance floor.

              “It can be hard because some of the girls are a lot taller than some of the boys,” said Tomlinson.

              Walroth tried to force the shyer girls on the floor by assigning partners.  Yet some of the girls still lingered behind the line because, as one sixth-grader put it, “I don’t like my partner, and he doesn’t like me.”

              When Yanee Zane danced with her partner, Keishaun Wheelings, they stood two feet apart, moving in unison without touching each other.  Debra Fields, a classmates piped in, “Yeah, it feels a little weird to dance with a boy.  But I like all the boys.”

              Chris Soulia, who administered the program at Ichabod Crane School last year, said fear of the opposite sex fades within a few weeks.

              “If you’re a boy, girls are icky, probably wet and cold to the touch too, and if you’re a girl, then boys are just weird and probably have cooties,” said Soulia.  “The first few weeks we spend a lot of time just getting to know and respect each other.  Once everyone realizes that: (a) these dances are pretty cool, and (b) this person that I am partnered with is OK, too, then we are able to really start learning to dance.”

              Back at Yates, with an equal number of boys and girls, everyone was paired up.  Bachus and Roe watched the children move simultaneously in lines and circles.

              Roe nodded his head and said:  “They are pretty good. This is only their third week.”

              Bachus agreed, adding:  “Yeah, some of these boys are our most challenging, too.”

              Soulia said that was one of the benefits of Dance Crazy, promoting emotional growth.

              “They really matured and were remarkably accepting of each other as temmates and friends,” Soulia said.

              Caden Sidoti, a sixth-grader, is not thinking about her partner.  Her mind is focused on the competition.  “I want to make it because it is fun,” she said.  “I feel like a star.”

              Anthony Valentin is also taking the lessons seriously, too.

              “I saw Anthony in the hall the other day and he asked me to dance.: said Bachus.

              “Yeah,” he said with a blush.  “I’m getting thehang of it.”


              For Nneka Morgini, a shy, tall girl, dancing helps melt her reserve.  “I like it because you make new friends and learn new dances.  I practice at home a lot,” she said.

              No matter who goes to the competition, the teachers and the Dance Crazy staff know that all the participants will gain something—a bit of self-confidence, a new skill, and a knowledge of social graces.  At the very least, the participants are getting a chance to move after a day of sitting in the classroom.

              “What I was told by teachers last year was that the children who had trouble paying attention or were hyper or had bad attitudes, they changed during Dance Crazy,” said Robbiano.  “They were well-behaved and had respect for each other.”

              Hopefully, she addes, they gained a healthy habit and friends for life.

Reach Gazette reporter Wendy Liberatore at 395-3199 or at .


The Journalism Page

(St. Rose College’s Newspaper)

Friday, January 05, 2007


Tuxedos and evening gowns in the classroom

Ballroom dancing invades Capital District schools

Shari Blanchard

ALBANY- An organization in the Capital Region is striving to bring the art of ballroom dancing to the future leaders of the world. When picturing children dancing, images of tutus, tap shoes and sequined costumes come to mind. But, imagine a fifth or sixth-grader learning how to dance an elegant waltz or a passionate tango.

            Dance Crazy is a group of local and professional ballroom dancers encouraging students to learn ballroom dancing as an after school activity to eventually perform in a competition. Dance Crazy was inspired by the achievements of the children in New York City ballroom dance program called “Dancing Classrooms.”  Dance Crazy has designed a ballroom dance program similar to Dancing Classrooms, but Dance Crazy’s program has been modified in order to fit with the resources available in the area.

            Founder and president Susan Robbiano has developed a dance curriculum to teach students the fundamentals of ballroom dancing in a kid friendly way. Robbiano also hopes the program will encourage children to discover themselves as unique individuals in a completely unexpected way.

            Largely supported by Arthur Murray, a ballroom dance franchise, Dance Crazy has turned to the owner of the Latham studio to develop this program.  Jennifer Girard, owner and franchisee of Arthur Murray dance studio in Latham, has been a part of Dance Crazy since its first year in January 2006. Girard passionately works to further develop the program by serving as the Artistic Director, a member of the board of directors, and one of the professional instructors.

            Together, Robbiano and Girard collaborated to create a syllabus and a mission statement to make this program appealing to fifth and sixth-graders in local elementary schools.

            During the first year of the program, Girard was beside herself with emotion as she watched the change in her students. “To watch a child walk up to another student or even an adult and ask them to dance politely is so rewarding,” Girard said.

            The program runs from January through May. This year, Dance Crazy has chosen five schools for the 2007 session: Martin Luther Magnet school in Schenectady, Albany School of Humanities, A.W. Becker Elementary School in Selkirk, PB Coeymans Elementary and Yates Magnet school in Schenectady.

             A competition in May is then held for the six best couples from all the schools. The competition is scheduled for the first week in May and will give the students a chance to demonstrate their skills in front of certified judges.

            The other students aren’t excluded from performing. In fact, a fundraiser at the Franklin Plaza will be held where all the students are invited to dance for their families and friends on April 24th.

           Last year, Van Rensselaer Middle School and Ichabod Crane participated in the programs trial run.  Ideally, Girard would like the program to run in five schools each 10-week session with about 15 girls and boys from each school. However, last year with only two schools involved, there were between 40 and 50 children dancing their after school hours away.

            It isn’t possible for only Robbiano and Girard to run the program alone. They leave much of the individual lesson teaching to their group of professional teachers from the Capital Region.  Lynzee Finney, a professional instructor at Arthur Murray in Latham, volunteers her time to bring Dance Crazy into more classrooms. “It’s cool to see little kids work on something and see the expressions on their faces once they have accomplished it,” Finney said.

Finney immediately volunteered when the announcement came for professional teachers. She’s teaching at the PB Coeymans Elementary School.

            Both Girard and Finney agree that the feedback from the students as well as the community has made the process all worth while. Finney recalled the one lesson that she taught last year where after spending time with one shy couple, they were able to master the jitterbug better than any other students.

           Parents also gave overwhelming praise as they watched their children dance at a local dinner where the students were asked to perform. “Not only had they seen the difference in their children’s behavior, but their confidence as well,” Girard said with a smile.

            Social differences were also evident in the students after their six weeks of ballroom dance training. By learning the history of the dances and the styling, the children demonstrated a level of maturity that most people don’t learn until later in life.

            After one successful year, Dance Crazy is looking forward to showing the children of the Capital Region that ballroom dance is for the young at heart, no matter how old you are.

            The popularity of ballroom dancing is spreading. Whether you want to credit  ABC’s hit television series “Dancing with the Stars” or just on the desire for people to try something new, the aspiration to get on the dance floor is growing.

            Ann Neilson, Director of the Physical Education department at the College of Saint Rose, has been teaching a ballroom and folk dance class as an option for the student’s physical education requirement.  “The course has been a part of the department for about 20 years and I have always taught it,” Neilson said.

            Agreeing that the television show has had some influence on the enrollment in the class, Neilson said the ballroom dancing course has always been popular at Saint Rose.

“The objectives of the course state that the students will learn a variety of ballroom dances, ranging from polka to jitterbug.”

          Being a part of an organization that teaches children something they most likely will never learn is incredibly rewarding. Dance Crazy brings the opportunity to a young generation in hopes to make a difference in their lives.  “This is an important time to reach out to children,” Girard said. “Dancing is an outlet to be oneself and that is what Dance Crazy provides.”