Simply Ballroom: Larchmont’s 93 Year Tradition
06 Dec, 2012
By Polly Kreisman
Is it even relevant anymore? Ananchronistic?
About 200 Fifth Graders (in different sections), the girls in white gloves, the boys in jackets and ties, sitting up straight, waltzing, forming a receiving line, even, (gasp!) making eye contact?
Consider that after 93 years, Ballroom, or, more accurately, The Helen Adams School of Dancing, is always full when held in Larchmont from October to February for 10-year-olds.
“We should always know to be considerate of other people throughout our lives, otherwise I wouldn’t bother teaching this,” says Pat Bainton, who has owned the School since 1977 and began as Helen Adams’ assistant at the age of 13 (though she won’t say what year.)
“You have to be nice to other people here, whether you know them or not. It’s a feeling I want them to have about life in general.”
The story of The Helen Adams School of Dancing follows the story of the growth of the Village of Larchmont. Helen, (or “Honey”) Adams, the great-great-great-grandaughter of President John Adams, started the school in 1919. She was seen dancing The Dying Swan in New York by Larchmont developer Bill Merritt (who built many homes in Larchmont) and he brought her to town to teach his daughter. The first school, with 5 pupils, was held that summer on a spacious lawn at the corner of Weaver St. and Palmer Avenue.
By the 1940’s, the School had moved to the hall in St. John’s Episcopal Church. Honey died in a car accident in Larchmont in 1977.
Today, children at elementary schools in Larchmont (Central, Chatsworth Ave., Murray Ave., and Sts. John and Paul) receive hand written invitations at the start of the 5th Grade school year. Attendance for the ten weeks is $375 per child.
Today’s children learn the basic Waltz, the Cha-Cha and manners. It’s all not without its controversy, of course, or its supporters. In 1998, the New York Times featured the school with the headline “Grace Displaces Grunge.”
Still, that’s a lot of ten-year-olds over the years.
“I do fall in love with them. Ten year olds are so special because they’re on the brink.”