Tyler Dowling and Layla Hawkins show off their gold-winning smiles. Photo: Lisa Bryan, KP News

Vaughn Elementary School’s ballroom dance team foxtrotted their way to gold in the Colors of the Rainbow Grand Final Ballroom Dance Competition June 9 at Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way. The team of fifth-grade students competed against seven other Puget Sound area dance team finalists before claiming top honors. 

 “At first it was really uncomfortable to touch people in ballroom dancing. But the longer we kept doing it the more comfortable it felt,” said dancer Wyatt McKail. “We learned a lot of lessons like respect and manners.”

“Nobody was excited to start ballroom dancing, but as we continued we really started having fun with it,” student Naomi Miadaoski said. “It became an exciting thing. Everyone looked forward to it.”

“In the very beginning I thought it would be more serious and not as fun, but the way Teacher Adam taught it, it wasn’t too serious and it kind of made you feel happy while dancing,” Jackson Clark said.

“I was not the one you’d see dancing with the opposite gender,” student Emma Makha said. “We were very choppy when we started. We wouldn’t focus on each other. We weren’t really friends at the time.” But by the time the finals came, she and her partner felt smooth and were comfortable looking into each other’s eyes. “That’s when I realized, you know––we are really good dancing together. After we found out we won, I don’t think I stopped smiling until the next day.”

“Adam Lee, the dance instructor, was truly a motivating force; he helped the kids

through encouragement and had boundless energy,” Vaughn fifth-grade teacher Heidi Heistand said. 

“Vaughn would not be able to participate in this program without the support of the
Gig Harbor Rotary clubs,” Heistand said. Rotarians provided the funding for the program last year and this year. 

Back row left to right: Naomi Sniadoski, Luca Marchio, Kiera Mays, Jackson Clark, Emma Muhka, James McCourt. Front row left to right: Layla Hawkins, Tyler Dowling, Yulya Nichipor, Eben Small, Gaby Blunck and Wyatt McKail. Photo: Lisa Bryan, KP News

Principal Lillian Page agreed. “Kudos to (Rotarian) Betty Felker. She has been such a big proponent of ballroom dancing for students. Together with The Gig Harbor Rotary clubs they have done a fantastic thing by coordinating and funding this program.”  

Lee works for Pacific Ballroom Dance, a nonprofit based in Auburn whose mission is to build character in youth by providing a positive ballroom dance experience. The core values it strives to instill in students are fitness, leadership, inclusiveness, respect, teamwork, excellence and dedication. 

“Through the power of dance, students learned social and emotional skills to give them confidence to try things that might feel uncomfortable at first,” Lee said. “I am extremely proud of these students at Vaughn, not just for winning the award but by the change that I saw in those kids. They worked hard, practiced hard and achieved their goals.”

Students learned six core ballroom dances including merengue, foxtrot, rhumba, tango, swing and waltz. 

“While the schools that do well are invited to participate in the competitive dancing, only a few of the couples end up doing the dancing, but everyone learns etiquette, they care for each other, they understand that as a group they’ve learned all the steps and dances, Page said. “It’s a fantastic program and I’m glad it begins in the fall, as it has an enormous effect on student behavior throughout the year.”

After the team won their semifinals in December, they qualified for the Colors of the Rainbow Grand Final. The finals wouldn’t take place until mid June. 

“When they were calling names for the semifinals, I was really happy to hear my name,” Jackson Clark said. “When we won the semifinals it was really fun, but since we had our class in the fall, we had a huge gap between the semifinals and the finals.” 

Heistand credits the students as the driving force behind the practices; they set their own schedule to practice two times a week beginning in January.

“When students worried they were not practicing correctly, staff members and parents stepped in to volunteer their time to work with the kids during planning periods or after school,” Heistand said.

“In that gap we practiced as groups, on recesses, in classrooms,” Clark said. “All that practicing really helped refine our skills and I think that’s pretty much the reason we won is because of that big gap.” 

“We all practiced every Monday and Thursday,” said Yulya Nichipor.  “When we won at semifinals we were all so happy, but when we won the finals, it was so grandly overwhelming we were all smiling and happy—we felt like we conquered the world.” 

“It was amazing,” said Kiera Mays. “When I realized we really won, it was one of the best days of my life.”

“It’s awkward at first but dance is a natural thing. We practiced hard, we felt confident, and we won gold,” said Layla Hawkins. Her advice to next year’s fifth graders: “Good luck, have confidence, it really makes a big difference.”

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