Guest Blogger: Q&A with BALLROOM BASIX™ Founder Sidney Grant

Learn more about the inspiring inner city school project and apply to several internship opportunities that will help you make a difference!  Expand your skills as a Development and Fundraising intern, a Media Services intern, or a Programming intern by applying through NYU CareerNet.

 

Founder/Artistic Director Sidney Grant gets a thank-you hug from one of his BALLROOM BASIX™ students, “Miss Angela” from PS114Q in Rockaway, whose school was severely damaged in Hurricane Sandy

 

 

Before we talk about your inspiring inner city school project, BALLROOM BASIX™, I have to ask you how got your your nickname: Dr. Dance. It’s fantastic! Can you tell us about it?

Years ago I was at a dinner dance on the Upper East Side, seated next to none other than the famous sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Our first dance together was a foxtrot. As we were gliding across the floor, she asked me what I did, and I told her that I teach connection to young and old alike through Ballroom and Latin dancing, and went on to explain my philosophy about what an incredible contribution this connection can make in the lives of those who experience it. When the dance finished, she looked up at me and exclaimed, “You, sir, are the Dance Doctor!” The next day I registered the name at City Hall — and the rest, as they say, is history.

A history that includes being named “New Yorker of the Week” on NY1 news last summer, and being nominated for “New Yorker of the Year” in December! Why do you think that was?

I am grateful to have a dedicated BALLROOM BASIX™ team that recognizes the magnitude of our mission, so the honor really reflects our combined efforts. The bottom line is that we live in a day and age where all of us — but especially children — are increasingly desensitized and depersonalized by technology: e-mail, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. It was this fact that lead Academy and Tony-award winning actress Marcia Gay Harden to lend her voice as our celebrity spokesperson.

Sadly, face-to-face interaction is such a rare commodity nowadays, and I think the producers at NY1 recognized how vital a program like BALLROOM BASIX™ is as a creative conduit for respectful physical interaction among young people, at a critical adolescent age. The NY1 press clip includes interviews with two of the middle schoolers from our pilot school that captures the effect of our dynamic 2-month program quite poignantly. Click to watch: http://youtu.be/jkEcGFEW1Qg

You recently did a demonstration up at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. The student journalist who covered the story quoted you as saying, “We need to put the ‘civil’ back in ‘civilization’ ” Can you elaborate?

Manners have largely disappeared from society, and one of the hallmarks of our culture is civility. As a result, bullying has become epidemic in our schools. BALLROOM BASIX™ is a creative way to transform “girls and boys” into “ladies and gentlemen.” We use a specific script whereby every student has to ASK for and ACCEPT the dance. “Tradition Position” (linking arms to escort a partner on and off the stage or gym floor), is required of ALL students. This is just one example of manifesting our memorable motto: “Making manners matter…every move we make.”

I love the alliteration! And schools must too, since what you’ve achieved statistically since your inception as a not-for-profit three years ago is nothing short of extraordinary. Can you share with our students some of your accomplishments?

Gladly. I actually began the project 5 years ago in a single school, PS 180, in the Morningside Heights section of Harlem. It was their first year extending beyond elementary school with a 6th grade class, hence the name Ballroom BaSIX — which is also named for the six steps of the box step). We spent the next two years developing and refining our unique, non-competitive methodology — which both educators and parents agree is the healthiest way to have the greatest benefit for the greatest number of children. And since my syllabus is rotational, it ensures that EVERY child will dance with EVERY other classmates EVERY class. That’s a real game-changer when it comes to peer relationships — in an engaging and entertaining way, of course.

After two years, and an additional Harlem school, BALLROOM BASIX™ was accepted into NYFA, the New York Foundation for the Arts, thereby becoming an official not-for-profit entity. In 2011, we transitioned to FCNY, The Fund for the City of New York, and have been a Partner Project of theirs ever since. In those two years, thanks to the support of private donors who believe so strongly in our work, we achieved the unthinkable: 1,000 schoolchildren served!

Incredibly, in this past 2012-13 school year, we MORE THAN DOUBLED that number, serving an additional 1,800 students in over a dozen schools in Harlem, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn! What’s more, we enjoyed our first regional launch in Hudson, NY last fall through Obama’s Greater Promise Neighborhood Project. Consequently, as a fledgling not-for-profit that is expanding rapidly, we need interns to work alongside our team as we grow.

That’s impressive short-term growth! So exactly what kind of qualities are you looking for in an intern?

Reliability. Compassion. Authenticity. I have no doubt that the academic qualifications of an NYU intern will be outstanding. But an appreciation for the significant impact we have on each and every child we serve is critical. Our entire team believes wholeheartedly in this premise, and so we want like-minded interns who recognize the power of our transformational programming.

I would ask every candidate, regardless of which position they are interested in, to think back to a time in their own childhood when they felt ostracized or rejected, and recognize that BALLROOM BASIX™ — as the only noncompetitive initiative of its kind — is designed to instill inclusiveness and cooperation by getting kids arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand and eye-to-eye — with “fun, fitness & fancy footwork!” If this resonates strongly for the applicant, then we encourage them to contact us. Hard-working interns who truly appreciate our mission will undoubtedly discover a mutually rewarding experience that will serve them at NYU and beyond.

To learn more about BALLROOM BASIX™, please visit their website at www.ballroombasix.org.

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