I see America dancing.
Not because of “Dancing With the Stars” or “So You Think You Can Dance” or any number of the dance shows that pepper the tube…although they have all contributed to the wave of dance that has swept this country onto its feet.
It’s because Pierre Dulaine came to town. Many might ask,”Who?” For the uninititated, he was Antonio Banderas (or rather, Antonio played him) in the 2006 movie, “Take the Lead.” It’s the story of a handsome ballroom teacher who feels that dancing could address any number of issues, and dives in (feet first, of course) to give his reluctant students a lesson in life.
But better yet, there was also a documentary, “Mad Hot Ballroom,” that came out around the same time. It traced real New York City students through several months of lessons and a culminating competition called “Colors of the Rainbow,” where more there were more hues than the gold, silver and bronze medals that were awarded the participants.
If you knew, you would have recognized Pierre toward the end. He is an elegant man, winner of many international titles himself and star on Broadway in “Grand Hotel” with partner Yvonne Marceau. Pierre also happens to be a gifted teacher. Along the way he opened his own school and taught at School of American Ballet, Juilliard and Alvin Ailey.
He didn’t have to take on a gaggle of fifth graders, more than a few of whom turned up their noses at the thought (and look) of a dance style that Arthur Murray eschewed on television with his wife, Kathryn, back in the ’50’s. But his ultimate success led to Dancing Classrooms, which just last year reached over 40,000 students in 400 schools in 13 cities.
Honors, awards and fame aside, Pierre could get down with them because he spreads joy through discipline and besides, it’s just great fun to move. We could see it in the glowingly expressive faces of the “Mad Hot” dancers.
Look out, Pittsburgh. Pierre swept into the city with picture-perfect poise, missing not a step as he said, with a droll roll of the tongue, “My name is Pierr-r-r-re.”
The adults got to meet him first last Wednesday night at LaFond Galleries on the South Side. With six young ballroom dancers setting the tone out on the sidewalk, the members of the Pittsburgh Public
Schools gathered with coordinators from Mercy Behavioral Health and Dancing Classrooms teachers Terry and Rozana Sweeney, international champions themselves.
Then Pierre gave them a taste of things to come. Soon the formality of a cocktail party became something entirely different as the adults were circling the gallery with their ballroom partners.
The excitement really escalated the next morning, when all of the fifth graders from five Pittsburgh elementary schools — Arlington Academy, Martin Luther King Elementary, Phillips Elementary, Spring Hill Elementary and West Liberty Elementary — traveled to host school Allegheny Elementary on the North Shore to meet with Pierre.
After introductions and remarks from deputy superintendent Dr. Linda Lane and Mercy Behavioral Health prevention supervisor Mark Rogalsky and clips from “Mad Hot Ballroom,” it was Pierre’s turn to charm the audience and bring up pre-selected students to give ballroom a try.
Martin Luther King’s Edna Poland was not sure she liked ballroom at that point. She watched as the students skillfully followed instructions like “red light” and “green light” and “shake what your mama gave you.” By then there was a big smile on her face.
Arlington’s J’von Brown and Asa Jones-Martin were excited after they descended from the stage, along with West Liberty’s Michael Lacek, Victoria McCrea, Alana Morrison and Logan O’Hara. For a finale, everyone got to do the Macarena…in their seats.
It seemed like this Rainbow of dancers was eagerly awaiting the next step. But it will have to wait a bit, like everything else, until the G-20 is over.