Hindy Gruber: hero.

When I first met Hindy Gruber through my work on a local film festival, I knew right away that at least one Dayton Public School was in good hands. They made a movie about one no-nonsense school principal from New York (Joe Clark, Lean on Me) and we could make one about Mrs. Gruber and her work at Van Cleeve/ McGuffy/Allen.

From uniforms to painting white lines with arrows in the halls, there is no question of what is, and isn’t, acceptable behavior in her school. Students walk on the line, with hands behind their backs, to keep things neat and orderly in her buildings. Structure, order, discipline have to be in place before learning can take place.

But, that doesn’t mean school is a drag. Inspired by the movie “Mad Hot Ballroom” Mrs. Gruber brought a little ballroom to the bario, asking inner city kids who like to dance more like Janet Jackson, to start being Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Yesterday, the championship went to her school, but, because we’re lucky enough to have a dedicated educator in Dayton doing the right thing, it wasn’t just her school, but seven others in the competition.

Middle-schoolers showcase skill at ballroom dance competition
DAYTON — On an otherwise sleepy Sunday afternoon, seventh- and eighth-graders from Dayton Public Schools brought the Dayton Masonic Center to life at their annual ballroom dance competition.

With hundreds in a cheering crowd packed around the dance floor and ringing the upstairs railing, the 56 two-person teams did the rumba, tango, merengue, swing and hustle in formal attire with plenty of teenage enthusiasm.

“You’ve got to get into it,” said Dahnae Brown, a Van Cleve Elementary eighth-grader. “You’ve got to move like you want to win.”

She and partner Chris Clark did that on all the dances, but Clark, a Van Cleve seventh-grader, said the hustle and the rumba stood out as their favorites.

Eastmont eighth-graders Thomas Allen and Jeri Myers agreed the rumba was fun after practicing for nearly two hours a night all last week.

“You had to be really dedicated,” Myers said. “It’s really exciting and fun.”

Judges, some of them professional dancers, graded the students to determine who would advance to the finals.

The event has been organized for three years by Van Cleve principal Hindy Gruber and Jefferson principal Czerny Buxton. Gruber was inspired to start the program after seeing the documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom,” about a similar program in New York City.

“Everybody in the 7th and 8th grade (at Van Cleve) has to do it at least three times, and there’s groaning and moaning and complaining, and then we end up with couples and teams,” said Gruber, who is looking for more event sponsors. “I couldn’t be prouder of the kids. It’s just amazing.”

Buxton said the dancing program can give the students a real lift.

“You never know what it’s going to be that’s going to make the difference in that child’s life,” Buxton said. “One person might have football, another basketball, but for some of these it’s ballroom dancing.”

Gruber said the competition had four schools last year, seven this year and wants to grow in future years.

For that hope, all Gruber had to do was look over at 4-year-old Matthew Holloway, who was dancing while he watched his brother Jeremiah compete.

Matthew said he’s too small to follow in his brother’s dance steps now, but he definitely wants to do it when he gets older, because “you get to move.”

It’s stories like these, that have gone untold. The Chess teams that Riley Driver sponsored, the Serious Young Musicians with Tumust Allison, the kids that Michael and Sandy Bashaw, Bing Davis and other local artists have inspired and guided all the way to Stivers, with Erin Dooley at the helm.

Dayton Public Schools may have it’s problems- but, if you look a little deeper, it has it’s heroes.

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