By CYNTHIA SCHUSTER EAKIN
When it comes to dance and etiquette, the two go hand in hand.
Dancing Classrooms, a 10-week, 20-session program for fifth- and eighth-grade children, is not about teaching ballroom dancing. The dance is the tool for getting children to break down social barriers, to learn about honor and respect, treat others carefully, improve self-confidence, communicate and cooperate, and accept others even if they are different.
Jo Jo Carciopollo, founding executive director of the Northeast Ohio branch of Dancing Classrooms, trained and worked under program founder Pierre Dulaine in New York City. “Through my time as a teaching artist and director of his weekend academy, I experienced the transformative powers of the program first-hand,” she explained. “After the release of the documentary, ‘Mad Hot Ballroom’ and the feature film, ‘Take the Lead,’ which was based on the Dancing Classrooms programs, efforts to establish a national network began. Being originally from Northeast Ohio, I knew that this was a program the region would not only benefit from, but embrace.”
“Dancing Classrooms Northeast Ohio (DCNEO), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit, was formed in March, 2018 and we launched in Northeast Ohio schools that September and served 24 classrooms that first school year,” Carciopollo said. “Having completed 10 years of implementation, more than 17,000 Northeast Ohio children have been served by the program.” In the 2018-2019 school year, DCNEO will serve more than 100 classrooms throughout 48 Northeast Ohio schools in a variety of school districts.
“At the core of Dancing Classroom’s philosophy is the essential respect that goes into being a lady and being a gentleman. There are six basic components to the philosophy that are weaved throughout every action: Respect and Compassion, Being Present, Creating a Safe Place, Command and Control, Body and Verbal, and Humor and Joy,” she added.“In a time when we bemoan the loss of civil discourses and our society seems to become coarser by the day, Dancing Classrooms is a program that demands the children not only treat others with respect, but also encourages children to respect themselves,” Carrciopollo noted.
Visit dancing classroomsneo.org to learn more about this unique program.
Cleveland native Dick Blake has loved dancing since he was a child.
“My history is rather long,” he said. “I have been a professional ballroom dancer, an award-winning instructor and a choreographer. Several decades ago, I opened my dance studio. Eventually, my business expanded until it merged quite naturally with the teaching of manners and etiquette.”
Blake and his wife, business partner and fellow professional dancer, Lorraine, are dance instructors and etiquette trainers. Blake’s after-school dance and manners course is designed for students in grades five through eight. According to Blake, the program develops behaviors that, with time, become important life skills.
“At an age when awkwardness and poor self-image are common, learning the basics of social dancing allows students to interact and develop self-confidence,” he said. He has been involved in the social education of Clevelanders for many years and has taught in the Chagrin Valley and a wide variety of other schools, including Andrews School, Rocky River Middle School, St. Paschal, St. Raphael, St. Michael and Joan of Arc.
In addition to dance, Blake teaches manners and dining etiquette to students in grades kindergarten through high school. The proper way to sit, stand, walk and shake hands is demonstrated, followed by the use of proper greetings and polite rules of conversation. Handouts provided for the teachers cover additional topics such as introductions, company and party manners, gift etiquette and thank-you notes.
Adults also benefit from Dick Blake’s classes. His business and social etiquette classes are designed to help people in the workplace attain their professional goals. “The course centers on marketing one’s self in a positive manner,” he said. “Etiquette lessons are not just for characters in Edith Wharton novels. Knowing the rules of polite behavior gives you the advantage over people who don’t know them.” His deportment class helps change unconscious habits and build presence through walk, voice, gestures and rhythm. Students learn to develop poise, polish their image and improve body movements.
His students have included celebrities, professional athletes, politicians and local physicians. Many of his clients have been with him for years. Visitdickblake.com for more information.