Like most teenagers, they feel awkward and unsure on a dance floor. They don't know how to ask someone to dance, or what to say when the song ends. Unlike most teenagers, they can't see well enough to follow the steps or read the visual cues from their partners. They're visually impaired, these teens. But there they are on the floor — swinging, box-stepping, tangoing. Sway, sway, rock step. Good! To get them ready for a Valentine's Day dance this weekend sponsored by the Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind, a small group of Pasco teens got a crash course in cutting a rug.
Instructors from Arthur Murray dance studio visited the Lighthouse campus, where a small kitchen with linoleum floors (good for gliding) served as the ballroom.
They began with a slow rumba, doing the box step. They moved to a slightly up-tempo swing, then plunged into the tango.
Left foot forward, bum-bum-bum!
The dance lessons help the teens with things like body awareness, orientation and exercise. They also benefit from taking part in an activity that's a gimme for their sighted peers but seems off-limits to them.
It's part of a program at the Lighthouse that helps visually impaired teens transition from school to work. The program includes bricks and mortar: learning to use assistive technologies like a voice-controlled computer. Also, the intangibles: social skills that might elude them because they can't see people's faces.
"A lot of social skills are learned through observation of others, mostly your parents and your peers," said Lighthouse executive director Sylvia Perez. "When you don't see, those things are usually behind."
Lania Berger directed the dance lesson. She went beyond feet and hands.
"When we finish dancing, we want to make sure we always escort our partner back to our seats," she told the teens. "You never want to leave somebody alone on the dance floor."
"You always say, 'Thank you for the dance,' " she added.
"It's a different kind of teaching method because so many people are visual learners," Berger said after the lesson. "It takes a lot more courage to dance when you can't see what's going on."
Sway, sway, now turn me!
Madison Pugh, the only girl in this week's dance lesson, got extra attention and twirls. She said she had danced ballet before and these lessons made her more comfortable.
"It was nice," the 14-year-old New Port Richey girl said in a near-whisper.
Darnell Williams, 16, of Land O'Lakes impressed everyone with his swing moves. But he said he most liked the corte — a dramatic, picturesque pause during the tango, often done with a dip.
Will he ask someone to dance on Saturday?
"Definitely," he said.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.