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High school students take an interest in ballroom dance

Alex Wegscheid and Samantha Dreier practice the rumba.1 / 3
Joe Bowen/FOCUS Instructor Paul Mathieu, center, and students Alex Wegscheid, left, and Luke Potts, right, pantomime a waltz during a student-centered dance lesson last week at Promenade Ballroom. 2 / 3
Joe Bowen/FOCUS Luke Potts and Samantha Dreier practice while Instructor Paul Mathieu looks on. 3 / 3

Last winter, the Perham High School put on a production of “White Christmas.”

Now, several months later but still inspired by their experience with the musical, some of the performers are keeping up with their dance steps under the instruction of Paul Mathieu at the Promenade Ballroom.

Every Monday from 8-9:30 p.m., a small group of high school students gets together to learn traditional dance steps. At their most recent lesson, they practiced the waltz, the rumba and the two-step.

Lessons will eventually move to Saturdays, when they will happen every other week but will last twice as long, Mathieu explained.

Alex Wegscheid, who will be a senior at PHS, said “White Christmas” introduced him to traditional dances, and he’d like to do more dancing and take on bigger roles in the future.

“It’s a way to meet other people in the community, a way to get to know people.  It’s exercise, very healthy exercise, a way to keep fit and have fun,” he said while waiting for Monday’s lesson to start.

“Ever since the play we had, I’ve wanted to do this,” said Samantha Dreier, another incoming senior.

“It continues our history and culture,” she added. “Young people need to know it to keep the tradition going.”

Mathieu echoed her sentiment, saying “dancing is a big part of our culture and we want it to continue.”

“We have to give a working model of what’s appropriate and culturally worthwhile. It’s important that dancing remain a part of our culture. I want to give an opportunity for them to know what their grandparents know, and maybe their parents,” he said.

Mathieu said he was approached for dance lessons by kids in musicals for the last two years, which prompted him to lobby for dance lessons in gym classes at the high school. When he didn’t make much “headway” with school administrators, he decided to teach his own classes at Promenade.

The classes aren’t just meant to supplement the training for musical actors, however.

“This is an opportunity to show the kids what a cooperative, healthy relationship is,” he said. “What else do we do in our culture that teachers our children to interact well?”

Mathieu also believes that a strong grasp of traditional dancing techniques will help his students in social situations throughout their lives.

Luke Potts, a home-schooled senior who also performed in “White Christmas,” agrees.

“A lot of people don’t know how to dance properly,” he said, mentioning weddings in particular as a good showcase for proper dancing skills.

“The opportunity arises more often than people think,” he said.

Currently, the class has five students, but Mathieu believes the program will quickly grow.

Ultimately, he’d like to see the high school students attend the regularly-scheduled dances with students from his adult classes, hosted at Promenade on Friday nights.

Other plans include an eventual public demonstration of the students’ dance skills to raise money for the program.

“We’re looking at students from Frazee, Detroit Lakes, and Wadena,” Mathieu explained.

All three attendees on Monday will be seniors in the upcoming school year.

“We’re going to need fresh meat,” Dreier said playfully.