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Wallace A. Smith students waltz into life skills

Much like the dance form it incorporates, the Tennessee Waltz Competition for Wallace A. Smith fifth-graders is an old tradition. But educators say it’s an application that still pertains today.

“It is the opportunity to learn ballroom dancing — a life skill exercise,” said physical education teacher Jill King, who started the event 20 years ago. “It’s also an opportunity to learn how to work together as a team.”

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Wallace A. Smith Elementary School Tennessee Waltz competition third place winners Donovan Mcleod and D’Annis Ellis, first place winners Larissa Ryabchuk and Alex Martin, and second place winners Jake Paige and Leah Swafford, from left, show proper stance for the waltz.

The contest gains more dancers every year, she said. This year it boasted 170 of the school’s fifth-grade student-dancers, with three couples winning top honors this semester.

King, who teaches the dance to students in preparation, said 85 couples prepared for four weeks for the recent competition.

“When we first started we did basic steps,” said first place winner Alex Martin, who danced with fellow winner Larissa Ryabchuk. “The boys lead first with their left foot and the girls follow by going backwards on their right foot. We dance in a square.”

Wallace A. Smith teacher Dianne Tassie, a veteran ballroom dancer, then goes over final techniques with the students.

“I teach them how to turn in ballroom dancing and count it out,” she said. “Ballroom dancing is a great hobby for exercising and for keeping your mind alert. I have been ballroom dancing for years.”

Third place winner D’Annis Ellis, who danced with Donovan Mcleod, said they tried their best and felt like they accomplished something.

“Everyone was a bit nervous to start,” said physical education teacher Andrew Wilkinson. “They did not want to be near each other. As they practiced, they got more serious about the structure of the dance and how to do it.”

King said the students transformed from children into young ladies and gentlemen. She said in the competition students must display steps, tempo, structure and posture correctly. Bonus points are awarded for spins.

The waltz helps students exercise in a fun way, she said.

King said she would love to take the students to the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville to waltz on the entrance steps.

“We need more funding for high-quality physical education programs,” said Wilkinson. “We can only fund physical education one to two times per week now. The waltz is something they can continue to use. It’s about staying fit and active for a lifetime.”

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