Like a scene from a Jane Austen movie, the 50 middle school students lined up with their dance partners.
As the music started, the students began slowly swaying to the beat.
After a short interlude of dancing, instructor Ron Clark told the girls to move over one place to the left, introduce themselves to the next boy in line and ask, “May I have this dance?”
As the teens formed their new dance-partner combos, some of them began to giggle.
“We don’t laugh just because we are dancing with a particular person,” Clark said sternly into his microphone.
And so the dancing continued during the March 9 session of the Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School Dance Club, held in the Grandview Heights middle school’s commons.
But the club is more about the etiquette than the dancing, Clark said.
“It’s not really a dance class, although the students do learn about dancing,” Clark said. “It’s a life-skills program. The dancing is a way for them to learn the things an adult needs to know: how to introduce themselves, how to shake hands, how to make small talk and how to treat one another as ladies and gentlemen.”
Clark, who co-owned Dance Plus Ballroom in Grandview for 35 years before it closed in December 2016, has been teaching the social-skills and dance program for 52 years in dozens of central Ohio schools, including Columbus Academy, Dublin, Upper Arlington, Worthington and parochial schools.
The Grandview program is in its 22nd year and is sponsored by the Edison/Larson 4-8 PTO. It’s open to students in grades 7 and 8.
Middle school age is the perfect time for students to take his classes, Clark said.
“At that age, they are very respectful,” he said. “When they get into high school, their minds are set, their habits are set and if they don’t know how to dance already, self-consciousness and insecurities have set in.”
It’s also more difficult to schedule dance classes around high schoolers’ busy schedules that might include sports, band and after-school jobs, Clark said.
The lessons in social skills the students are learning along with the dancing is increasingly important in today’s world, said Katie Clifford, a PTO member and chairwoman of the dance club committee.
“The skills of social interaction are diminishing these days,” she said. “Students spend so much time on their computers or staring at their cellphones, they’re not learning the basic skills of making eye contact, introducing themselves to and talking with someone.”
Edison/Larson eighth-grader Freddie Keil is participating in the dance club for the second year.
“It helps you learn how to dance with people and feel more comfortable in that situation,” he said.
Seventh-grader Sophia Szabo-Ramsey said everyone is a little nervous when the class begins, but “pretty soon you’re just out there having fun.”
Learning how to interact with each other on the dance floor in a relaxed, fun atmosphere will make it easier when real dances take place, she said.
And it will help off the dance floor, too, Sophia said.
“Just learning more about how to make conversation and introduce ourselves will help when we’re out applying for jobs and meeting people,” she said.
The class had been slated to wrap up March 30, with parents invited to attend the session and dance with their children, Clifford said.
“It’s always a nice way to wrap up the program so the parents can see what their children have learned,” she said.
However, the district’s March 12 cancellation of all nonessential school activities until April 12 shut down the course prematurely.