NYer Of The Week: Sidney Grant Uses Dance To Teach Manners To Youths
It's not the most obvious hobby for school kids in Harlem but this week's New Yorker is helping sixth graders learn the steps needed to change their lives and their communities. NY1's John Schiumo filed the following report.
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Tango, merengue, salsa or waltz. At this school in Harlem, you might feel like you have gone back in time, back to an age when dancing was less about freestyling and more about music and manners.
"Dance is simply the medium for this message, this message of how important manners are," says Sidney Grant. "I don't think that message is out there as strongly as it can be."
Traditional dances require discipline, manners and civility, traits Sidney Grant has seen disappearing in neighborhoods around the city.
"We are really on a downward spiral culturally and socially," he says. "One of the hallmarks of American culture is that we do have a sense of etiquette, we do have a sense of manners. But there's very few people teaching manners to kids.
Sidney is. In 2008, he started Ballroom Basix, a non-profit that introduces sixth graders to the steps of classic dances, some of which have origins in this same Harlem neighborhood.
The moves learned extend beyond the dance floor.
"Outside, on the street, people are being so rude and disrespectful to each other," says student Rose Flowers. "But when you are in here dancing with your partner, you feel respect."
That respect can combat bullying and build relationships at the difficult age Sidney remembers all too well.
"I was bullied as a child. I was also the child who was picked last to be on a team in gym class," he says. "To me, it's the perfect antidote to bullying, to have an activity that by its very nature is non-competitive."
"Before ballroom dancing came to this school, we didn't have good communication with each other," says student David Ocasio. "When I am doing eye contact with people I am dancing with, I can actually read them. I can read their emotion."
So, for teaching students the basics of dance and life, Sidney Grant is our New Yorker of the Week.