WASHINGTON - "What do we say to a new partner?" ballroom dance instructor Jennifer Christophel asks a class of shy 8- to 12-year-olds.
"May we have this dance?" they respond.
The kids -- five girls and one boy -- move forward to practice a few steps before coming to a rest. A lone father watches from the benches inside Avant Garde Ballroom Dance Center in North Bethesda, Md., which offers classes for teens and children as young as 5 years old.
"Not only is dancing a fun way to get much needed physical activity, but ballroom dancing has also been proven to promote manners, good posture, social skills, and to boost confidence in children," Avant Garde Ballroom says on its website.
Several dance studios in the region offer ballroom classes for children. DC Dancesport Academy promises a youth program that gives kids "the perfect opportunity for your child to learn and develop skills which can be carried over into every part of their lives." They have classes in Northwest D.C. and Fairfax, Va. Forever Dancing in Falls Church, Va., and Studio Dans also offer youth programs.
At Avant Garde Ballroom, instructors emphasize the life lessons children can take with them after classes are over.
Kids learn about posture, etiquette and teamwork. During Christophel's second class, the dancers focused on social manners.
"The first thing we start out with is how the gentleman escorts the lady on the floor," she says. "We also reviewed how we ask someone to dance and how to look each other in the eye."
These kind of life lessons drew the attention of Thomas Evers and his son, Tom. The elder Evers grew up shimmying with Latin American friends who weren't shy about taking over the dance floor. Evers laments that American men aren't so free when it comes to dancing.
"I dragged him out," Evers says in reference to his son. "A lot of kids nowadays can't do the formal dances."
Stephan Leder had an easier time convincing his children to attend ballroom dance classes. His 10-year-old son, Max, is the only boy in Christophel's class for that age group, and Leder's 12-year-old daughter, Paulina, is often Max's partner.
Leder's children became interested in ballroom dancing after Leder confided in them that he had been a competitive dancer in his native Germany. The revelation piqued his son's curiosity.
"Men or boys are usually often not that into dancing, so boys always have opportunities to dance with other girls," Leder told his son.
Despite all the attention, Max remains "a little shy about it," Leder says. "Hopefully he will grow out of it."
Click through the photo gallery to learn more about ballroom dancing for kids.
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