Robin Green was tired of cooling his heels. Six weeks of practicing his moves was enough. Robin was ready to strut his stuff.
So were the rest of the youngsters queued in the ballroom at the Marks Street Senior Recreation Complex in Orlando on Thursday evening.
Girls graced the space in black cocktail dresses, Mardi Gras masks and high heels. Boys sported white dress shirts, black trousers, black fedoras and dark shades. All milled about and fidgeted, awaiting their cue — the culmination of a heckuva good idea given a spin six weeks ago.
Get Active Orlando, a community partnership focused on active living, and the Orlando chapter of USA Dance, pitched the idea to Bridge to Independence, a private school in Orlando's Parramore neighborhood, and to Family & Friends United, a program that provides enrichment programs for youth and families in Orlo Vista:
Let's get minority kids moving with some swing-dance grooving.
Minority kids were the focus, explained Get Active's Audrey Alexander, because as adults, minorities who live sedentary lifestyles disproportionately court heart disease and diabetes. Introducing exercise early this way promised an ounce of prevention — and tons of fun.
For an hour a week for the past six weeks, Damian Martorana and Aubrey Griffith-Zill, professional dancers with Rhythm4Life, a ballroom and Latin-dance fitness program, taught kids who are more familiar with the three R's the three T's — technique, timing and teamwork.
Robin was game. The 11-year-old had attended many dances, and even performed to Michael Jackson's "Black or White" last year in a talent show, copying the Gloved One's moves.
The smooth fifth-grader quickly adjusted to the novel experience of curling his arm around a pretty partner's waist.
"Dancing with a girl," says Robin, a fifth-grader at Orlo Vista Elementary, "is not something that's hard to do."
Likewise, Tykila Smith, 13, a hip-hop dance fan, had no formal dance experience but was keen to give ballroom a shot.
I ask her about mashed toes during those early lessons. Machine-gun giggles.
For Martorana, his first experience working with urban youth was "very cool to watch." And while the breakneck schedule left time for little but the basics, he managed to dance his charges through lessons sure to serve them well as they cha-cha through life.
Dance, he says, teaches leadership, "how to walk tall with confidence … and that in life and dance, every step you take is to prepare for the next step."
After the close of their six-week crash course, the next step for the aspiring dancers was Thursday's graduation recital — "Dancing with the Stars."
Minutes before their debut, the instructors ran their charges through brief run-through.
"Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow," Griffith-Zill guided.
First out, the Bridge to Independence students — stage name, "The Swing Kids."
Eight kids promenaded onto the floor. After a flurry of spins, twirls and twists to a pulsating Latin beat, eight dancers strutted off.
Next up, Family & Friends United's "Hot Pepper Steppers."
Boys strutted out first, their partners sashaying behind them, right hands waving high in the air.
It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.
On this night, at least, it meant something special.
For Tykila, the experience convinced her that dance was a career option. And, after teaming up with boys to create something wonderful, she realized something.
"I learned how to be partners with people — even though they're aggravating me — and get the job done."
Note to self: Send Arthur Murray gift certificates to Congress this Christmas.
Darryl E. Owens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5095.