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Forest Hills mad, hot for ballroom comeback

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At any other time of the day, the classic bubble-gum look may draw some fish out of water glares from her Queens' peers, where youth style leans toward the gritty, seductive and the hard core. But among her classmates and her 80 fellow dancers crowded together on the floor, she may as well just be putting on her school uniform.Today, she's a ballroom dancer, a self-proclaimed 'Swing-dance specialist,' and the sprite fifth-grader has got the moves to prove it.When the music starts, she explodes into a flurry of controlled chaos, her legs a blur, her lithe arms flailing around like strands of spaghetti, her torso bends, twists and dips with effortless grace.But she's not alone. Every couple in the room dances in a near mirror image of the next, and to the untrained eye, the only distinguishing factor between each couple is the style of dress.After two minutes, the music stops, and Beatrix breathes a heavy sigh, visibly disappointed that she has to stop.This is the semi-finals for Dancing Classrooms, a project of American Ballroom Theater, and the inspiration behind the new smash-hit movie, "Mad Hot Ballroom." If the packed auditorium in Flushing Town Hall last week is any indication, the ballroom dancing phenomenon is all the rage.The program takes late elementary-aged girls and boys, pairs them up, and makes them dance together - a prospect that has "cooties" written all over it.But under the tutelage of program director Pierre Dulaine, the children's reluctance to embrace the opposite sex for a whirl around the dance floor is quickly dropped in exchange for a newfound love of dance."On the very first dance they do, cooties are all over the place," Dulaine said. "Now, we have young ladies and young gentleman."The students take 20 dance lessons over a 10-week period where they learn the steps, rhythm, body posture and style for the waltz, heel-toe polka, meringue, rumba, tango, foxtrot, swing and line dances."What we really are teaching is respect, teamwork and transferable skills," Dulaine said. "Our students learn that the most important thing is to be able to work with another human being. And what they learn stays with them for life."After the heated competition June 8 two schools, PS 144 from Forest Hills and PS 122 from Astoria, were selected by a panel of three judges to advance to the final competition to take place in Manhattan later this month.For the Forest Hills students, it will be the second time they have made it so far in the competition. The first time occurred two years ago with a different set of students when they beat out all other city schools to win at the Ballroom Dancing Grand Finals. The accomplishment was documented in "Mad Hot Ballroom." At the conclusion of the Flushing semi-finals, the Forest Hills students, winded, sweating and smiling, seemed determined to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors. When asked what they plan to do to prepare for the big event, the students responded in unison: "Practice."Reach reporter Scott Sieber by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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