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Mary Woodward students get their dance on

Fourth- and fifth-graders learn to tango, salsa and much, much more.

TIMES PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Princess Frazier and George Henson, both fourth-graders at Mary Woodward Elementary School in Tigard, strike a pose during the ballroom dancing showcase and friendly competition at Twality Middle School on Monday night. You could almost feel the nerves in the air at Twality Middle School's small gym on Monday night.

Boy tried to straighten ties that didn't feel quite normal.

Girls brushed hair out of their eyes and tried to get it to lay just right.

Shirts that were supposed to look neat and stay tucked in sometimes didn't.

And shoes that absolutely looked good occasionally turned out to be less than perfect for the night's activity.

In this case, that activity was a ballroom dancing showcase and friendly competition featuring fourth- and fifth-graders from Mary Woodward Elementary.

The event, held every other year, featured some 170 Mary Woodward students showing parents, grandparents, friends and acquaintances a little of what they'd learned through a School Enrichment Program that taught them tango, salsa, swing, line dancing and merengue.

Despite the bits of awkwardness that come with the program, led this year by Cynthia Hively of ImpressionsDanceClub.net and Dance4Romance.com, most of the kids really seemed to enjoy their time in the spotlight on Monday night.

“I liked it,” said fifth-grader Sawyer Wolf, 11. “I liked dancing, moving, just having fun.”

“It was way more different than I was expecting,” said Isabel Detter, also 11, a fellow fifth-grader and Sawyer's dance partner. “I liked this. I learned about working with a partner and teamwork.”

Mary Woodward P.E. teacher Danielle Niemi, who has helped run the program for most of the past decade, said that teamwork and familiarity with the opposite gender are two of the big learning goals involved in the process.TIMES PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Christopher Wittgow (left) and Maddy Moore, both fourth-graders at Mary Woodward Elementary School in Tigard, participate in the ballroom dancing showcase and friendly competition at Twality Middle School on Monday night.

“It's a different setting where you have to work with people,” she said, noting that the program is paid for through the Mary Woodward PSO. “You have to get closer, learn to work with people's strengths and weaknesses and adapt. It forms a teamwork, camaraderie.”

“The goal of the program, no matter what age, is to help students build confidence, develop self-esteem and learn social connection through the practice of partnership dancing,” Hively said. “It's incredible being able to share this skill with students at a young age when they are much less inhibited than a large percentage of the adults I teach.”

Still, inhibition is part of the deal, at least when the program starts.

“I was excited about learning new dances but then also kind of nervous to be dancing with a boy,” Isabel admitted, a feeling Sawyer echoed before their Monday showcase began.

“I was excited at the same time, but I was also not excited but I was mainly excited,” he said.

Because Mary Woodward puts on this program every other year for all its fourth- and fifth-graders, all students are guaranteed the chance to dance in one of their final two years at the school. Typically, because of the number of students involved, Hively usually taught half the students for half an hour at a time, often assisted by Mary Woodward teacher Angela Mullins. Then, they'd switch gears to teach the other half of the students, occasionally bringing the entire group together to practice for the showcase.

Along with that early awkwardness, some of the students are just certain that they won't succeed, but Niemi and Hively know better.

“Usually, by the end of the program, most of the kids are enjoying the dancing and not even thinking about that original nervousness they had on the first day,” said Hively, who has also taught the program at Durham, Deer Creek and Charles F. Tigard elementary schools, as well as at Hazelbrook, Fowler and Twality middle schools. “My goal is to share my love of dance with each student and help them learn to appreciate the joy of social dancing.”

“Some of them say 'I can't do this. This is hard,'” Niemi added. “They form a wall, but then you see them at the end and they're comfortable and having fun. You can see they're happy. There's a lot of smiles on their faces.”TIMES PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Yadira Donis Donis (red dress, left to right), Ashley Larios and Kiki Allen - all fourth-graders at Mary Woodward Elementary School in Tigard - prepare themselves for the ballroom dancing showcase and friendly competition at Twality Middle School on Monday night.

By Miles Vance
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