This segment aired just over a year ago on NBC News, but it’s still noteworthy for local Catholics. Two schools in the Phoenix Diocese reportedly make up those “400 more around the world” cited in the story where ballroom dancing lessons are required of fifth-grade students.

This marks the third year of Dancing Classrooms for St. Matthew students. They dance twice a week learning:

  • dance steps
  • poise
  • cooperation
  • social skills

“And because they actually have to look at one another, they learn acceptance and team work,” explained Gena McGowan, principal.

The program also addresses social studies standards by introducing fifth-graders to the country of origin for each dance. “Most exciting in view of our new Holy Father, the students will learn all about Argentina as they learn the complicated steps of the Tango,” McGowan said.

Just like the students on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” the fifth-graders will also learn the:

  • merengue
  • fox trot
  • cha cha cha
  • swing

Last year’s students are brushing up on their skills and learning more complicated steps with an eye on local competition. Some of them performed at the Scottsdale Street Fair at the Pavilions at Loop 101 and Indian Bend in Scottsdale March 24.

The school plans to bring Dancing Classrooms back for the students’ eighth-grade year so they can review the dance steps. That will give young teens much needed self-confidence as they begin to attend related social events, McGowan said.

Catholic school students aren’t the only ones learning new moves and discovering new-found confidence. The program is also in full swing at Phoenix’s Lodestar Day Resource Center on the Human Services Campus. Any client taking advantage of services for the homeless, low-income or those seeking healthcare can enroll. Classes meet during lunchtime or in the evening when the lobby is transformed into a ballroom.

If you can’t visit either Phoenix ballrooms to witness character transformations, try tuning in to ABC. The 16th season of “Dancing With the Stars” enters its second week tonight.