5th-graders twirl into finals at LAUSD's first dance competition

Dancing Classrooms Competition

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Ricardo Gonzalez and Kyonica Bell, both 11 year old students from Manchester Elementary School, practice their moves backstage before the competition begins.

Dancing Classrooms Competition

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Students dance in the last round of the Dancing Classrooms Grand Final competition at the Cocoanut Grove Theater on June 19, 2012.

Dancing Classrooms Competition

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Natalie Mastrangelo, 10, and Alexis Gonzalez, 12, are dance partners from West Hollywood Elementary school, and competed in the Dancing Classrooms grand finals on June 19, 2012.

Dancing Classrooms Competition

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Dancing Classrooms program manager, Maritza Jones goes over the rules of the competition with all of the finalists backstage.

Dancing Classrooms Competition

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Emerald Team students, comprised of youth from the Ambassador School of Global Education, check out their names on the list of finalists at the Dancing Classrooms grand final competition on June 19, 2012.

Dancing Classrooms Competition

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Students take the stage during the first round of judging at the Dancing Classrooms competition on June 19, 2012.

Dancing Classrooms Competition

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Students from Hawthorne Elementary School, look on as the rest of the competitors line the stage at the beginning of the Dancing Classrooms grand final competition.

Dancing Classrooms Competition

Bear Guerra/KPCC

A stagelight shines on a couple as they twirl across the stage at the competition.

Dancing Classrooms Competition

Bear Guerra/KPCC

Two competitors take the stage.

Dancing Classrooms Competition

Bear Guerra/KPCC

Students show their moves as they dance a tango during judging at the Dancing Classrooms competition.

Dancing Classrooms Competition

Bear Guerra/KPCC

At the end of the third judging round, students bow to the audience.

Dancing Classrooms Competition

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The Ruby Team, from LA's Community Magnet Charter School, reacts to being announced the winners of the Dancing Classrooms grand final competition.


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.

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