Ballroom In The School Room

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This segment originally was broadcast Nov. 19, 2000.

School pretty much boils down to the three Rs: reading, writing, and 'rithmetic. But lately, at P.S. 11 in New York City, there's been a fourth R: the rumba. CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Bill Geist reports.

It's not only the rumba, but the foxtrot, the merengue and swing dancing, not to mention the tango.

When you think of inner-city public schools, you might think of metal detectors, but never ballroom dancing. But at 29 schools in New York, ballroom dancing has been introduced into the curriculum.

It was the idea of Pierre Dulaine, head of the Professional Ballroom Theater, who might be the only instructor in the public school system to tell the students: "What should be moving instead of your hands? Your hips, baby!" Adds Dulaine, "One more time. I want to see your hips move."

Later, Dulaine says of the dance, "It's something so far out of their world that I thought it was a wonderful thing to bring into their world."

The idea is to not only teach dancing, but also things like respect, manners, etiquette - old-fashioned stuff.

"We want them to learn dance steps, but we also want them to learn how to treat each other nice," says Pam Greenspan, their dance teacher. "They may not chew gum, and we keep them from having hands in their pockets."

"It teaches boys how to be gentlemen, how to speak in a nice way to the lady," Jeremy, one of the students, explains. "Before, I was starting trouble. But now I don't start trouble that much. It touched my heart a lot with the dancing."

And Diana Krosnick, a fifth-grade teacher, says, "Some of them go home and practice with their parents, and some of the parents who have never done ballroom dancing are learning, too. So that's a good thing... They love it. They love it."

But the 10- and 11-year-old students didn't really love it at first. Touching was the first hurdle.

"We had anti-bacterial lotion ready so they could wash their hands every two seconds," says Pam Greenspan, their dance teacher.

But now they've come around, and the lessons led to the formation of a ballroom dancing team, which competes with other schools. P.S. 11 won the City Ballroom Dancing Championship the last time around.

Kate and Tyler, who were on the winning team, now hope to lead the school to back-to-back championships.

Coach Pam was more than hopeful: "We're going to win. What else?"

Nine schools competed in the ballroom dancing finals, pitting teams from East Harlem, the Bronx, Chinatown - from all over the city.

In the first event, the merengue, Angel and Amanda teamed up for P.S. 11.

Next, Frank and Mary Catherine danced the foxtrot.

Dancing the rumba, the hip work of Priscilla and Marcus moved P.S. 11 up to third in the overall point standings.

Then came the tango, the forbidden dance, where veterans Kate and Tyler coolly pulled P.S. 11 into a tie for first place going into the final event, swing.

With their swing dance, Rawane and Antesha really cut a rug, pulling out another championship for the hoofers of P.S. 11.

Is this a dynasty in the making? Will ballroom dancing restore civility to our schools and society? Who knows?

But it's a start - a nice start.

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