COLUMBIA FALLS – Country music blared over the speakers in the high school gym, as sophomores – in socked feet or sneakers or cowboy boots – paired up to dance and silently mouthed, “One, two, three, one, two, three.”
The slow songs provided just the right 3/4 rhythm for these new dancers to learn one of the oldest and most practiced dances in the world: the waltz.
Physical education teacher Betsy Funk led the lesson, leading off with information about the dance’s romantic history, and how it promotes those happy brain chemicals, serotonin and dopamine.
“I think the reason you like to waltz is because it feels good to waltz,” Funk told the class before they got started.
This is the third type of dance the class has learned so far in its two-week dancing unit. The first two were the foxtrot and the two-step, and the waltz will be followed with salsa and swing dancing.
Funk has been teaching teens at Columbia Falls High School to dance for a decade, highlighting not only the positive role dancing can play in a healthy life, but also the proper etiquette involved.
It also helps that this unit comes just before the high school’s prom, Funk said.
“It’s their favorite unit of the year,” Funk told the Beacon while the students waltzed along.
Her statement seemed true enough, as the students smiled and laughed throughout the lesson, despite some apparent nervousness at dancing with a classmate.
Boys and girls lined up and paired off to dance, each having to introduce themselves and the boys holding out their arms for the girls to take as they led them to their appointed dancing spot.
The boys learned how to lead the traditional three-step count of the waltz, while the girls learned how to follow with mirrored, backwards steps.
Half an hour into the class, lips that were mouthing the dance count began to relax into smiles as the students started getting the hang of it, some even taking the opportunity to add in some sweeping movement.
Then came the dip.
Funk’s student helpers, who are part of the dance club she runs each week over lunch and who had been assisting throughout the lesson, showed the other students how to safely and properly dip and be dipped.
This part of the lesson was a bit like a mass trust fall set to music, and was an overall success, much to the delight of everyone involved.
One talented student helper, Mark Hader, 17, a junior, said he joined the dance club early on in his high school career simply because he enjoys the movement.
“I love to dance,” Hader said, as he expertly led a visiting reporter around the gym floor. “I’ve been doing this since my freshman year.”
As the lesson continued, Funk explained to the boys that they should not just drop their arms and leave their dance partner on the floor when the song ends; instead, they should thank them for the dance, and perhaps walk with them back to their table.
Small hints like these may have been readily available for previous generations, but Funk said it’s important that today’s teenagers have a chance to learn them.
“I tell them it opens doors for them,” she said. “Having social graces opens doors for them.”
In the 10 years she’s been teaching dancing, Funk said it’s been fun to see siblings and cousins work their way through the unit over the years, giving it a generational feel.
As the class ended with several impressive dips, handshakes and thanks-for-the-dances, the students got on with the rest of their day. Funk had seven periods to teach that day, and as it has for centuries, the rhythm of the waltz – the one, two, three, one, two, three of romance – went on.
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