- Barbara Sherman
- The Times - News
Michael and Cynthia Parent teach ballroom dancing to a new, appreciative generation
DURHAM - On a mid-December day at Durham Elementary, Cynthia Parent was putting fourth- and fifth-graders through their paces.
After the fifth-graders finished their dance lesson, the fourth-graders walked into the multi-purpose room two by two, and Parent conducted the last class before the Dec. 12 competition at Tigard High School.
'Show me the shadow position!' Parent said. 'Remember, you can raise your team points by volunteering to dance with someone you haven't danced with before.'
As students prepared to do the foxtrot, Parent told them to get into the escort position 'and escort your partner to somewhere near your team.'
When the dance started, Parent called out, 'You should be parallel to your partner. Gentlemen, look over your partner's shoulder to make sure you won't crash into someone.'
As the dance continued, Parent reminded the kids to 'keep to the rhythm,' and at one point, she called out, 'I don't want to see any more shuffling. Now, turn your partners out. Bow and curtsey, applaud your partner.'
Cynthia and Michael Parent opened Impressions Dance Club in 1997 and taught competition-level students almost exclusively.
'But nothing has been as rewarding as watching the kids we teach learn and grow,' Parent said.
The couple closed their original studio in 2002 but still teach group classes and private lessons for adults at Bally Total Fitness on Sequoia Parkway.
'We are developing after-school programs at Twality, Hazelbrook and Durham schools and hope to add more youth programs throughout the rest of the school year,' Parent said. 'Our ultimate goal is to develop programs in all the elementary schools, with after-school programs in the middle and high schools and community dance opportunities where everyone has a fun, safe place to go and enjoy themselves.'
In the past year, the Parents have worked with approximately 1,800 students between the ages of 9 and 19, starting at Durham.
'We taught the fourth- and fifth-graders to dance as a combined effort with the PE and music classes,' Parent said. 'Each class received six hours of dance instruction, during which time they learned to dance the basics of the swing salsa, merengue and electric slide. We put together a mini-competition between the classes to give the kids a goal to focus on.
'Classes received points for their attitude and participation during class as well as overall performance points during the actual competition. The kids had a great time, and we received a lot of positive response from the parents as well.'
The Parents ran the same program at Deer Creek Elementary School last spring, which also was a huge success, and they started their program at Durham earlier this year to be able to involve more schools and possibly hold a competition or showcase event between all the participating schools.
'The competition is a lot of fun,' Parent said. 'However, it's really just a tool to help us get the kids to the real benefits of learning to dance.'
A student once wrote her a thank you note that said, 'Dear Mrs. Parent, Thank you for helping me to get over my fear of the opposite gender.'
She explained, 'Dancing in and of itself is a fun skill that can be utilized throughout your life. But the benefits that come from learning to dance are the real payoff. There are the obvious benefits of learning timing, rhythm, poise and posture.
'But especially for kids this age, it's learning to interact appropriately with the opposite sex, learning respect and building confidence…'
Parent believes that the 'old-fashioned' ballroom dances that she teaches 'work just as well to today's music as it did with the music of the 1940s.'
She added, 'I have a driving passion for wanting to make these school programs work. Our biggest obstacle right now is funding. We're currently looking for grants or donations to help make this program grow.'