Waltzing Students to Health, Fitness and Rhythm

When the 2011 State Teachers of the Year visited the Department of Education in May, we asked them if they had solutions to challenges in the areas of teacher effectiveness, healthy schools and parent and community engagement. For Alaska Teacher of the Year Lorrie Heagy, the answer was an enthusiastic “yes!”—and she sent video footage to prove it.

At Ms. Heagy’s school, Glacier Valley Elementary in Juneau, Alaska, the music teacher, physical education teacher, school counselor and librarian have teamed up to create an arts-integrated class where students learn ballroom dancing. The teachers collaborate with a dance instructor from the local state university to provide instruction in five dances. As a result of this collaboration, students are more physically active, learn to work as a team, and develop and polish new social skills—all through dance.

More than 200 students participated in the integrated unit and showcased their dance moves at a school assembly. Then, students competed to represent Glacier Valley on the “HeART & Sole” dance team at the Juneau-Douglas High School Dance Team Spring Show. Glacier Valley’s 24-member team received a standing ovation for their dance routine, which incorporated the waltz, tango, merengue, swing, foxtrot and electric slide (watch video from the show here or below).

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Initially funded several years ago through the U.S. Department of Education’s Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP), Glacier Valley offers the eight-week ballroom dance class for its 3rd-5th graders twice a week. According to Ms. Heagy, “The arts not only engage students, but also revitalize teachers, make school inviting for parents, and involve community members in meaningful ways.” The program has had such a powerful impact on Glacier Valley students that former students hope to return to help coach next year’s team. Local businesses and the school’s parent association have stepped up to continue funding the ballroom dance unit for the past five years.

Glacier Valley is one of many examples of schools and districts finding innovative ways to promote and integrate physical activity and nutrition into school programming. Whether it’s PEP grantees in Covington, Ky., sponsoring fitness field trips and active family fun nights, or in Telluride, Colo., constructing ropes courses for outdoor fitness challenges, schools across the United States are finding ways to engage both students and their communities and promote active, healthy lifestyles.

– Aurora H. Steinle is a Special Advisor to the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Secretary at the Department of Education


  1. Nice post, enjoyed the reading.

    But, I can’t quite figure out what “new skills” they developed. You said that through dance the students would develop and polish new social skills. Could you please explain what skills it is all about?
    Thanks and keep’em coming 🙂


    • Thanks for your interest, Eugene. Social skills for ballroom dancing are initially taught in the first lesson of the unit, and reinforced throughout. 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders are not especially comfortable with eye-contact or a dance hold that is close in proximity. Teaming with our school counselor, we use discussion and role play to help the students understand the importance of using eye-contact and body language to convey confidence. (We also take the opportunity to share with them the trick of looking at the top of a person’s ear or eyebrow as an alternative to directly in the eye.) Teaching the young ladies and gentlemen how to ask someone to dance, incorporating eye contact and extending the right hand, is the beginning step. Declining an invitation to the dance floor is unacceptable at Glacier Valley. We stress to students that it takes an enormous amount of courage to ask someone to dance. Escort position is another skill taught to move on and off of the dance floor. We also teach the students to bow and curtsey after a dance has ended while saying, “thank you” for the dance. Giving compliments about a partner’s dancing or how much fun they had during the dance are also encouraged, and often spotlighted during lessons. These are often new skills to students in these grade levels.
      Susie Denton
      GV- Physical Education

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