Listen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:
It’s Friday morning at Dorsey High School and second-year math teacher Edward Kusell-Zigelman (better known as Ed KZ) is about to start a class that has nothing to do with adding or subtracting.
“One of my coordinators proposed the idea to me last year to teach any elective I wanted. She said we have this empty space, empty class, what do you wanna teach?” he said.
For KZ, the choice was easy. He’s a member of Break-On 2, the University of Southern California’s premiere salsa performance group. So KZ started a Partner Dance Class at Dorsey last fall and it’s open to students of all shapes and sizes. That is good news for athletes like Jovonte Warren, who says that when his friends hear Jovonte is in dance class “they laugh because I’m freakishly tall and when they come here to see, everybody else is short.”
KZ’s Partner Dance Class makes Dorsey High one of the only schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District to have an organized dance class. But dancing isn’t the only thing the class teaches.
“This class in particular is something special for the kids, not just because it’s the arts but because it’s partner dance,” KZ said. “So what’s really neat and unique about this class and would be at any program at any high school is that they’re really learning how to socialize with each other.”
Whether it is dancing the tango, doing the cha cha, or shuffling to the salsa, KZ emphasizes the importance of social etiquette and mutual respect.
“It’s been pretty cool, I kinda opened up as a person. I used to be kinda like shy and stuff but now, dance… it helps me like be able to walk up to a person and make conversation,” said Shelton Sanders, a senior who says Partner Dance has helped him open up his social life.
“Mr. KZ came in and asked us about the dance team and he said it was with girls so I was like ‘Yeah, this is awesome!’”
Girls aren’t the only attractive aspect of the course. The Dorsey students get to interact with USC students and alumni through a mentorship program set up by KZ, a USC graduate of 2010. The High Schoolers recently visited USC to perform in USC’s Break-On 2 salsa club. Armand Jordan said the experience helped get him excited about attending college this fall.
“Through this program I was able to go to USC for one of the first times and meet some of the college students and listen to some of their experiences,” Jordan said. “It’s definitely made me want to go to college.”
Almost all of the Partner Dance students are college bound and we’re not talking about your average two-year community college. Many Partner Dance students are headed to prestigious universities such as UCLA, USC, and Stanford.
But KZ’s mentorship program doesn’t just benefit the students of partner dance.
Erika Soto graduated USC in 2011 and she mentors the Partner Dance students every week at Dorsey High School.
“Every student has a USC college mentor and we basically write to each other back and forth,” Soto said. “I feel like we’re making a really great impact on their lives. We’re really influencing them in a positive way and it also reminds me of who I’m trying to be and keeps me motivated to stay in a positive path and move forward in a positive direction.”
The Partner Dance class will return to USC this spring for another performance, this time at Bovard Auditorium for the Break-On 2 Showcase April 19th.