In 2006, actor Antonio Banderas starred in the movie Take the Lead, based the true story of Pierre Dulaine and Yvonne Marceau, who introduced ballroom dancing to fifth-graders in the New York City public school system in 1994. The 2005 documentary Mad Hot Ballroom also brought national attention to the advantages of their program, Dancing Classrooms. This program proved to be such a success, they franchised Dancing Classrooms in 2005. Their mission is "to build social awareness, confidence, and self-esteem in children through the practice of social dance.”
Nancy Vallee founded The Whistle Stop, a Lake Charles non-profit advocacy group for children. In 2008, with a generous donation from Citgo, Vallee brought Dancing Classrooms to Louisiana. She began the program with six schools, including three in Lake Charles. Currently twenty schools in the state include Dancing Classrooms in their fifth grade curriculum. Vallee estimates approximately 55,000 children are involved with Dancing Classrooms worldwide. Each class meets with a dance instructor twice a week for ten weeks. Upon completion, the children participate in a competition. Total cost of a class is $3,000. Schools pay a fee of $950.00. The Whistle Stop funds the balance through grants and the organization’s primary annual fundraiser, Mad Hot Ballroom Celebrity Dancing Gala.
Vallee recognized the value of ballroom dance for children and wished to provide a dance outlet for middle and high school children. In 2011, she started the program DanceSport Academy. The goal of this program is to develop competitive dance teams while fostering character growth in the dancers. Training includes more than dance technique. "There are certain criteria expected in a dance competition,” says Vallee. "Participants have to learn to converse and interact in social situations with adults. They must act and dress like ladies and gentlemen. The benefits of attending such a competition are huge. Children are never the same after that experience.”
Students who excel in the Dancing Classrooms program are invited to join DanceSport Academy. Around forty students meet every Tuesday and Thursday evening for ballroom practice. They attend dance competitions around the country. Currently, two pairs of dancers are preparing to go to the national competition in Baltimore, April 1-3. Reginald Larkins, an 11th grader at Sam Houston, and his partner 15-year-old Caitlyn Wilson at LaGrange High School, are considered to be the two best youth ballroom dancers in the state and will compete for a national title. Victoria Self and Walter Joubert will also participate in this national competition.
DanceSport Academy will hold a fundraiser at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 5, at Central School in the Ben Mount Theatre. Tuxedo Junction, a musical dance production, features Larkins and Wilson, as well as all the dancers at DanceSport Academy. "No one who sees this show will be disappointed,” says Vallee.