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PS 98 wins crown in competition on Mad Hot Ballroom dance floor

"I think it's a really wonderful feat," said PS 98's ecstatic principal, Sheila Huggins. "They had the love, the dedication, the patience. They deserved this."The fourth- and fifth-grade girls' moves were as smooth as their white satin gloves while the boys were as sharp as their snazzy black vests accented with silver polka dots, but delicate like the red roses they wore on the left side of their chest. The team was arguably the best dressed of the competition with the girls wearing white feathers in their hair."You're doing a great job. You're really shaking it," yelled Pierre Dulaine, the event's emcee and co-founder of American Ballroom Theater.PS 98 and two schools from Bayside, PS 41 and PS 159, were among the nine finalists at the ballroom dancing contest held at the Toy Building in Manhattan Feb. 8. PS 159 was one of two other teams that danced alongside PS 98 as gold medal winners before the champion was announced. PS 41 took home a silver medal.Nobody could have been prouder than PS 98's music teacher, Julius Adams, who coached the students."I never expect anything. You never know what you're up against," Adams said when asked if he thought the team would win. "I just hoped that they did well. And they did. They were amazing. They should be proud of all the hard work that they did."The competition was judged by well-known figures of the ballroom dancing world such as Marge Champion, whose graceful movements were the model for Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." The standing-room only crowd, carrying signs and cheering on their favorite team of dancers, was screaming so loudly that the competition had to be stopped on several occasions because the dancers could not hear the music."I know you're excited," Dulaine said. "But we need to see your children dance on the beat." But PS 98 did not buckle under pressure and came out on top of a field that first included more than 160 other schools. There were eight other teams from across the city, represented by various colors, in the finals. The competition, held by the Manhattan-based American Ballroom Theater, a company that introduced ballroom dancing to some city schools more than a decade ago, is arranged in two parts for the finals.Five pairs of students from the nine schools who specialized in each of five dances - rumba, merengue, tango, swing and fox-trot - took to the dance floor for the variety of dance they knew the best.Judges, who focused on posture, how well the students were in character with the dances they were moving to, the smoothness of the fox-trot and tango and how well they stayed on beat, then winnowed the field to three teams who danced for the Challenge Trophy. There was no second or third place.Those three teams randomly picked dances from a hat, which meant students danced to a form that was not their specialty."It was very nerve racking," said PS 98 fifth-grader Samantha Pappalardi, whose specialty is swing but had to dance the fox-trot. "It felt kinda awkward (but) it was very fun.""They did well. They did more than well," Dulaine said.He will be portrayed by Antonio Banderas in the feature film "Take The Lead," which opens April 7 and is based on the competition, but involved high school students.The contest was also captured in the critically acclaimed documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom," which came out last year and followed the students from first step to the finals.Of her ballroom dancing experience, Pappalardi said "it's a good opportunity for a kid to learn how to dance and that you can go to a wedding and dance and teach your parents."Asked if she decided where the trophy will be going, Huggins smilingly said "we're going to find a good place. But I have to show it off first in the auditorium." Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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