Jack Cowan, 18, and Kari Johnson, 16, dance Thursday during their ballroom dance class at North Medford High School, where the class has become a popular P.E. elective. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Here's a P.E. class that really swings

It could be that it’s a fad or that it’s the only physical education class that doesn't require students to dress down, but whatever the case, North Medford High School’s ballroom dance class is one of the most popular classes on campus.{br class="hardreturn" /}
About 60 students enroll in the class, which is offered only one period, every semester, and about 30 to 40 percent of the students who enroll stick around for a second, third or even fourth semester, said P.E. teacher Jeff Olson.{br class="hardreturn" /}
Most of the students in the class have no prior dance experience, and most — about 80 percent of the class this semester — are girls, who have to learn to both lead and follow in the absence of a male partner.{br class="hardreturn" /}
“There’s at least double or triple the amount of girls that want to do the class so we have to rotate partners all the time,” said June Kranenburg, a dance instructor and member of USA Dance, an organization that promotes ballroom dancing around the country. “Once the guys discover it, they like it and stay, but getting them in there is like pulling teeth.”{br class="hardreturn" /}
In 2012, Kranenburg, together with McLoughlin Middle School Principal Linda White, who was North's assistant principal at the time, worked to secure a funding from the local chapter of USA Dance to bring ballroom dancing to North. (Kranenburg was White’s choreographer for the 2012 Dancing with the Rogue Valley Stars competition.){br class="hardreturn" /}
“Dancing is social and a lot different from other P.E. classes (the school) offers … and a nice alternative for kids who aren't into sports,” White said. “I’m thrilled it’s still going.”{br class="hardreturn" /}
Currently, Kranenburg and about three other dance instructors take turns teaching at North, and in their absence, Olson and some of the more advanced students fill in.{br class="hardreturn" /}
Olson, former head football coach at both North and Southern Oregon University, said he’s had to learn the steps alongside the students.{br class="hardreturn" /}
“I've got five left feet, but I've learned a lot,” Olson said.{br class="hardreturn" /}
“It’s something I wish I would have picked up a long time ago,” he added.{br class="hardreturn" /}
In the class, students learn to waltz, fox trot, swing (jump and West Coast), samba, salsa, American tango and cha cha. They also learn some “fad dances,” such as line dancing and nightclub two-step, Kranenburg said.{br class="hardreturn" /}
“Even the really shy people get into it,” she said Thursday during the class, which counts as a P.E., fine arts or elective credit.{br class="hardreturn" /}
On Thursday, North sophomore Allison Arnold, 15, practiced a swing routine with a classmate. Arnold, who has been taking ballroom dancing for nearly two years, initially signed up because she didn't want to take any of the other P.E. classes and didn't want to have to dress down.{br class="hardreturn" /}
Now, she loves the class, particularly the social aspect of it and learning to salsa.{br class="hardreturn" /}
Senior Jack Cowan, 18, and junior Kari Johnson, 16, both prefer West Coast swing because of the freedom it allows.{br class="hardreturn" /}
“If you screw up, you can just go with it,” said Cowan, who is also part of the West Coast Swing Club, a student-organized, after-school club and an offshoot of the dance class.{br class="hardreturn" /}
Johnson, who enjoys fine arts, has taken art classes, sung in the choir and played viola with orchestra.{br class="hardreturn" /}
“So when one of my friends told me there was a ballroom dance class, I was like ‘No way!’ ” she said.{br class="hardreturn" /}
The local chapter of USA Dance is interested in expanding the program to other schools.{br class="hardreturn" /}
“We have approached and offered to bring it to South but haven’t heard back from them,” Kranenburg said. “And there’s a couple other schools interested.”{br class="hardreturn" /}
Olson said the North would also like to expand the program to include a beginning and intermediate class for students.{br class="hardreturn" /}
“It’s something they can do for the rest of their lives, wherever they go,” he said.{br class="hardreturn" /}
Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or Follow her at{br class="hardreturn" /}

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