Wanna know the secret to the tango? Fifth-grader Kai Land will tell you. It’s his specialty.
"I have to say the secret of the tango is your serious expression," he said, hamming it up. The look he gave was a cross between the pang of a brain freeze headache and deep consternation. "Trust me, I don’t look like I could do serious expressions," he said, finally giving up.
How about the Rumba? Kiera Craft knows a lot about the number. Craft is a spindly, tall girl who at the mention of the Latin dance started swaying as her hands flew into the air. "I love the hips!"
About 100 fifth-graders, from the San Fernando Valley to Koreatown to Bel Air, mastered these and other ballroom maneuvers. Each hoped to take home a 5-foot trophy that happened to tower over half the contestants.
The dance competition capped 10 weeks of training in the Dancing Classrooms L.A. program at 19 schools.
New York City schools launched the program 18 years ago. It's inspired national news reports, the documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom" and similar dance curricula throughout the country.
Sophia Chang, president of the nonprofit that runs the program in L.A, said the true purpose of the program goes beyond choreography.
"Dancing is a way to build connections," she said. "And that means that even if you don’t like somebody or think they’re funny looking, in the class, everyone dances with everyone. Eliminating bias and respecting others and being confident and elegant, sophisticated as ladies and gentleman."
Students last night stepped out in elegant, ruffled and sometimes dazzling outfits. The girls from Fullbright Elementary School wore neon yellow tops with ruffles that swung with their movements.
The competition was fierce, and many students said they use special visualization tactics to get in the right frame of mind. For Selene Imin, it helped to think of a cow. As in the "moo" variety. "Because the tango is very dramatic and I don’t know, cows are dramatic," she said, giving in to the giggle-fit around her.
Seven schools made it to the Grand Final at The Cocoanut Grove Theater on the campus of the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools. After the rumba, merengue, foxtrot, waltz, tango and swing there could only be one winner. Although it seemed West Hollywood was the school to beat, the young ladies and gentlemen from Community Magnet Charter School took home the golden trophy.