New twist on phys ed class in Mattituck

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO Students practice dance steps at Mattituck High School on Tuesday morning.

At 7:30 in the morning, you may not feel like swing dancing, but that’s what students at Mattituck High School were doing Tuesday as part of their physical education curriculum. They’ve also learned the tango.

Swing dancing? Tango? Isn’t physical education all about sports — volleyball, tennis and plain old exercise?

Hardly, physical education teacher Maureen Berry wants you to know. Dancing is good exercise, too, and Mattituck is trying to “stress lifetime sports,” she said, explaining the school district’s decision to incorporate a two-week program ballroom dancing program into the curriculum for students in grades nine through 12. It was part of Ms. Berry’s curriculum when she earned her credentials as a physical education teacher, she said. And she’s been teaching for 22 years, so it’s hardly a new concept, she added.

“Until they step out of their comfort zone, they don’t know,” said Ms. Berry, noting that the early resistance of some students has turned into enthusiasm.

“It’s just been an awesome, awesome response,” she said.

The program began a few years ago in the Center Moriches School District and instructors from the Center Moriches Arthur Murray Dance Studio are working with Mattituck students, just as they do in their hometown.

A lot of kids don’t like sports and are pleased to have an alternative in ballroom dancing, said instructor Emilio Padilla. Dancing also helps them socially, he added, recalling that there was a lot of squirming and discomfort during the first week. By the second week, according to Ms. Berry, students were beginning to feel at ease.

Mr. Padillo said he and his assistant are tough taskmasters who demand respect and won’t abide students who don’t take the lessons seriously.

“Don’t do that in my class,” Mr. Padilla told a few male students who were fooling around Tuesday morning.

“The main thing is just be respectful,” Ms. Berry added.

The students change partners on a rotating basis. And when one female student told her partner, “I don’t like you,” Ms. Berry said that probably translates to, “I have a mad crush on you.”

“It’s asinine,” Cole Karlin, a 16-year-old junior, said about the program. But he did a quick turnaround, explaining that Ms. Berry had been promising the dance program for several years, and it took until this year to finally incorporate it into the curriculum.

“I didn’t really expect to do something like this in gym,” said junior Mynor Javier, also 16. His friend Redolfo Perez, 16 and a sophomore, said it was “pretty fun to get to do something new.”

Junior Corinne Aranko, 16, asked Mr. Padilla’s assistant, “Can you help me? I have no idea what I’m doing.” But she appeared to pick up the steps quickly with a minimum amount of assistance.

“Follow me, I know what I’m doing,” Nick Bieber, a 16-year-old junior, told one of his partners as he led her through the basic steps and included a twirl.

“I think it’s pretty good,” he said of the dance instruction. “But a lot of people don’t like it.” He admitted he was surprised to see dance as part of the physical education curriculum but, he said, “I get it.”

“I thought it was going to be interesting,” 15-year-old sophomore Cassianne Pelan said of the class. Although she wasn’t sure what she was doing, Mr. Padilla praised her dancing.

“I love it; it’s such fun,” said Emma Mulligan, a 17-year-old senior.

“Just keep trying and the muscle memory will kick in,” Mr. Padilla advised those who were still struggling.

“Just a little exposure” is what Mattituck’s program is about this year, Ms. Berry said. She hopes the program can be included again next year.

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