Fourth and fifth grade music students at Bonsack Elementary School wowed their classmates and families with “A Night of Music and Dancing” performed on December 14, with holiday music by the fourth grade and ballroom dancing by the fifth.
They presented the program once during the afternoon for fellow students and again at night for their parents at a PTA meeting.
Their music teacher, Katie Saunders, who has taught music at Bonsack for three years, said the students began working on the program in October. Their initial reaction to the concept of ballroom dancing was “eew” at the thought of touching another student during the dances.
“At first, there was a little skepticism about fifth graders actually ballroom dancing,” Saunders commented. “By the time we got to the end of the lessons, you could see the transformation in the kids to elegant young ladies and gentlemen.
“We started the program by viewing the movie ‘Mad Hot Ballroom,’ which is a documentary about the similar dance program in New York City public schools,” said Saunders.” After we viewed the movie, we began dance lessons. The PE teacher, Dustin King, and I co-taught the lessons.
“Mr. King and I observed during the dance lessons and we chose partners based on height and dance skills,” explained Saunders. “The students also got to tell us their favorite dance and we tried to do our best to let them dance their favorite.”
This was the second year for the program at Bonsack with the first being in 2015.
“I saw this program when I was teaching at Oak Grove Elementary with Glo Howell,” said Saunders. “She introduced me to the program as she did this with her fifth graders.” Saunders said that’s where she herself learned all the ballroom dances.
She does not have a background in dance but says she has “picked up things here and there during my 18 years of teaching, attending conferences, and traveling.”
She choreographed the dance numbers for the Bonsack students “based on what I have seen done at other schools.”
Saunders hopes that the dancing and music program will become an annual event that fourth and fifth graders can anticipate.
Fourth graders learn all the recorder songs in music class as part of their regular music curriculum. In Roanoke County Public Schools, elementary students begin playing the recorder in third grade and continue in fourth and fifth.
Fifth graders learned all the ballroom dances in a combined music and PE class as part of their regular curriculum.
Music classes meet every three days for 45 minutes. Saunders said all the songs and dances were learned during the school day; there were no after school practices.
Fifty-six fourth graders performed along with 68 fifth graders, for a total of 124 students in all.
For the program, her instructions were that fourth graders were to come dressed in holiday-themed attire.
“Fifth grade ladies were to come in a dress, while the boys were to come dressed in dress pants and shirts,” noted Saunders. “The school provided white gloves that the girls wore while dancing.
“Due to the many activities around the holiday season, some fourth and fifth grade students were unable to participate in the evening performance,” said Saunders. “All students did participate in the day performance though.”
The fourth graders opened the “Night of Music and Dancing” playing “Good King Wenceslas” on their recorders, followed by the fifth graders performing the Cha-Cha to “Merry Christmas,” by N-Sync.
The fourth graders then performed “An Olde English Carol,” from the Middle Ages during the time of knights and jousting. Next up was the Fox Trot by the fifth graders, performed to “White Christmas.”
The fourth graders then played their favorite tune of the night, “Fum, Fum, Fum,” with a Latin feel.
The final number was the fifth-grade favorite, the Merengue, a dance from the Dominican Republic which they performed to the song “Menea.”
Saunders says she knew the basic steps of this dance but learned a few more complicated steps while in the Dominican Republic.
“I was on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic in September 2016 where I was able to see how the dance is done in the country,” added Saunders. “I was there to assist the local church with music and to work in the schools. We were able to learn about the local culture as well; that’s when I got to learn how to dance the Merengue like the Dominicans do.
“PE teacher Dustin King was a huge help,” said Saunders. “He assisted with teaching the dance lessons and also was the one lining up students backstage during the performance.”
Fourth grade teachers Nikki Hall, Tara Jones, and Haley Burnett and fifth grade teachers Suzanne Witcher, Jen Hancock, and Laura Muncey helped backstage as well with monitoring the students.
The stage was beautifully decorated for both performances by King and Saunders. The Bonsack PTA provided the Christmas tree. The Christmas lights came from her basement.
Upcoming music events this year include the annual Fifth Grade Talent Show in February, and Encore Night in April promoting the 4 Encore classes—PE, art, music, and library. Preschool and kindergarten students will be performing a short program called “Mama Goose Rhymes” in May. Also in May, the fourth graders will be singing the national anthem at a Salem Red Sox game.
Saunders thanked everyone for attending the “unbelievable” performance which “showcased what students do in music class.”