If I’m at a party and I’m in a good mood, like anyone else would, I hit the dance floor. I certainly don’t have two left feet…I can move….but I wouldn’t say I’m a ‘Carlton’ (please tell me you watched the Fresh Prince of Bel Air). So yes, I used to hold my head high and snicker at the gentlemen standing against the wall holding their beer because they were too afraid to invite a lady to dance.
Then one day my business partner invited me to a charity event at the office of Silverstein Properties overlooking the World Trade Center before the WTC was open to the public. I only went because of the access to the exclusive views. I couldn’t understand why she would move our client meeting to the next day just to see some 10 year-old children dance. The music began…..and then I understood…..my eyes were riveted to their posture and grace as they not only commanded the breadth of the dance floor but they seamlessly changed partners as well as rhythm while shifting from a waltz to a foxtrot to a tango. I stood there in disbelief. These were certainly professionals disguised as kids I thought….but no….these were children from schools in underprivileged areas whose parents understood the opportunity afforded to their children and who not only enrolled their children in the program but were there with them that night.
These children were enrolled in Dancing Classrooms, an organization founded in 1994 to teach ballroom dancing skills to elementary and middle school children in the five boroughs of New York City. That’s the definition on paper. In reality, the program offers at risk children who are often not involved in afterschool activities a chance to develop social and emotional skills as well as the discipline needed to be successful in a career later in life. By arming them with tools of conversation and culture, these children are able to not just survive, but to actually thrive no matter what their circumstances may have been in the past.
On March 9th, the organization is hosting its annual Mad Hot Ballroom Gala at The Pierre Hotel on East 61st Street and I would encourage everyone to either attend or contribute. I believe the work that they are doing with these children is exceptional and if that’s not enough to encourage you to attend, I daresay the event is fun! This is after all the group that inspired the award winning 2005 documentary Mad Hot Ballroom and the sizzling 2006 Antonio Banderas film, Take the Lead. On the matter of stars, in attendance this year will be Maks Chermovsky, Karina Smirnoff and as Cynthia Germanatto is one of the night’s honorees you may very well get to meet her daughter – the one and only Lady Gaga!
You may be inclined to downplay the social change that can be brought about by ‘just dancing’ but consider this, Pierre Dulaine, the organization’s founder, was able to engender friendship between a group of Israeli children and a group of Palestinian children while teaching them the nuances of ballroom dance (see the award winning documentary “Dancing in Jaffa”). Developing ironclad affections for one another, the youth transcended geographical, racial and religious obstacles to promote love, kindness, and generosity. This is the sort of breakthrough I find so valuable to the human condition and it is for this reason that Dancing Classrooms attained and has retained such significance to me. The importance of such bonds for future relations between those nations cannot be overstated.
Dancing Classrooms is able to lend a hand only because it was fortunate enough to benefit from the generous hands of others, and now over 50,000 children in over 600 schools scattered across the globe are going to grow up and make our world a better place as a result. I encourage you to attend the party next week and if you are not able to attend for whatever reason, you may want to consider making a donation.
If you are looking for me at the party next week you may want to look for the dark handsome gentleman in the corner holding his beer and buying tickets to the World Trade Center Observatory on his phone. Not only did I forget about the World Trade view once these children started to perform but now I think I need dancing lessons before I hit the floor again. I mean, look at these kids!