Simply Ballroom: Larchmont’s 93 Year Tradition


“Ballroom” at St. John’s Church recently

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.

Pat Bainton leads the charge

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.”



23 thoughts on “Simply Ballroom: Larchmont’s 93 Year Tradition

  1. I grew up in Larchmont and went to Honey Adams as a 15-year-old, an appropriate age, in 1965. It was nice to meet girls, learn to dance, hack around with my friends (shooting ice cubes across the floor at the end of the evening), and get the chance to go out a night dressed in a suit and, yes, white gloves. It was cool to be square. Very, very preppy. Since then, I have read all of F Scott Fitzgerald’s novels as a result.

  2. This brings back such memories! I went to Honey Adams ballroom dancing class in 1966. I enjoyed it very much and it hasn’t changed much since then either. It was a great way to learn how to interact with boys in white gloves. But I can’t say I used my ballroom dancing skills in life though. Honey Adams taught ballet as well. She was a large woman with a large cane that she would use to keep tempo with the music. I was rather intimidated by her if I remember correctly.

  3. My children never received invitations as Chatsworth students. I knew about the program from an advertisement/flier in the library. I called and signed up. Not sure why everything has to be about putting people down or feeling put down by others.

      • I attended Honey Adams School of Dance from 1954-1964. Honey was always glamorously attired in satin dresses with lace collars and moved with grace and dexterity. Besides learning ballet and tap, I was enrolled in the ballroom dance classes while in 7th and 8th grades. Knowing the secret passages in St. John’s allowed me and a small posse to evade the greeting line preceding the class.

        Word of warning…don’t wear a taffeta dress when you are nervous or keep your arms down to hide the perspiration stains.

  4. I had no idea MAS was not sent invitations and I agree, that is absolutely wrong. As a Chatsworth parent of a 5th grader, personally I am THANKFUL my child has opted out of participating in ballroom this year. While I commend the teaching of manners (how to ask someone to dance, etc), I am against everything else this program represents. First off, these kids are 10 and while it’s nice to learn to dance, the boy-girl drama that happens as a result of this program is quite frankly a nightmare. Not to mention the drama among the parents of organizing the carpools. The whole “after-party” scene at Cosi or Starbucks is ridiculous and when my middle child did this program, I dreaded those Friday nights, watching pre-pubescent boys and girls try to figure out how to socialize. This program forces kids who are TOO YOUNG to participate in an activity that is meant for older students. This has become one of those programs that kids want to do because “everyone else is doing it” and for the most part, the dancing is secondary to the other “activities” connected to this program. I’m glad my 5th grader is being a leader and not a follower and making a decision based on his interests and not what his peers are doing.

  5. My children go to another private school in Larchmont and all I had to do was ask to join the classes and my son was enrolled. There’s little interest at our school, so I can see why personalized invites aren’t sent to all parents. Before calling in the race card, see how many students actually are interested in attending. If there’s not a big interest, this discussion seems to be about something very different than Ballroom Dance classes.

  6. I have thankfully have never had any of the blatantly shameful experinces that Sue speaks of…rather the opposite! Yet…i have heard the rumblings of this type of thing going on, most especially aimed at MAS over the years but central a bit as well. if there are rumblings over it then it IS a problem and whether real or perceived, it needs to be corrected. Its just wrong to think that its OK to exclude ANY of the elemtary schools. WRONG. All or none or boycott the dance school. Anything else is indefensible…the “good business practice” excuse included. I used to be so defensive of this community based on great personal experinces but can no longer ignore that some very ugly things go on here. Thank goodness it is only a very small minority causing such ugliness but even one or two is too many. Excluding MAS is “shame on us” pure and simple. Allowing it to continue over the years is even worse.

  7. Hi Susie what are you talking about ! My looking the part was meant to show that without looking the part (wealthy , child at elite college etc, diamond wedding band , right nationality etc a mom will be ostracized in this elitist , phony, mean spirited community !! The horrible comments that have been made to me because I’m not a racist but a very done to earth humble person who had the nerve to send my three children to Mas are almost too insulting to share on this site. I will give one example , ” how do you send your kids to that school with all those Mexicans! The parents in this racist place we call Larchmont would love if MAS shuttered their doors and the kids were all shipped to Port Chester yep another lovely remark made to me! So you see not getting a written invite to ballroom all makes sense to me !

  8. Larchmont parent…give it up. Dont make yourself appear so business savvy…It is not MY JOB to demonstrate that! We are talking about CHILDREN BEING EXCLUDED….that is the UNDERLYING POINT. This type of business is not sophistcated enough to have a plan like you are laying out! And by the way…my chidlren are adults now .

  9. Sue – exactly what is “looking the part” supposed to mean? It appears you are the one who labels people. Shame on you. It amazes me that your children would turn out so well with you setting an example…

  10. Mas is not included because Larchmont is filled with racists , mean spirited horrible people especially the catty women! The comments that have been made to me for many years about MAS are despicable !! My child never was invited to Lacrosse and I had a parent say to me at the Lacrosse meeting who l allowed those kids to attend . She thought I was a Larchmont mom and I played along to see what she would say! You see I live on the grounds of Winged Foot and my husband and I are attorneys, all three of my children attended MAS. I look the part but thankfully I’m not a snobby racist. The negative things this woman said were extremely hurtful! How about I’m so scared to send my son to the Hommocks he may get best up by MAS kid. That was actually one of the better remarks!My children did extremely well at Mamaroneck Ave school and one is attending a top college. I guess the education was adequate , actually the education they received by having classmates that weren’t all wealthy and bratty was second to none. I heard the ballroom classes were boring so who cares anyway.

  11. It is not perfectly ok to invite children from all the elementary schools in larchmont/mamaroneck district EXCEPT MAS ! What is wrong with you? Sounds like you are implying that Larchmont is upscale ala Neiman Marcus and MAS is not?? Give me a break…

    • I wish you wouldn’t red-herring the discussion by focusing on the example I gave instead of addressing the underlying point. Private businesses are allowed to market to the people they think are their best prospects. Maybe they are wrong. Maybe they are right. But its their marketing budget.

      Instead of complaining about feeling excluded because you didn’t receive an individual invitation, why don’t you DEMONSTRATE THE WIDESPREAD INTEREST IN BALLROOM THAT YOU BELIEVE EXISTS AMONG MAS PARENTS? As a service to your child and to prevent this perceived insult in future years, write a group letter to Ballroom and ask for an MAS session with the justification of enough enrolling MAS students to support a session. If you do this, I’m sure that MAS students will receive individual invitations in the future.

  12. Ballroom is one of the things that makes Larchmont special. It is perfectly OK for a private business to decide who they mail invitations to. There is a cost to mailing individual invitations. Perhaps past experience has shown which elementary schools produce the greatest number of ballroom students. The MAS students are able to register, they are simply not receiving individually addressed invitations. This is a private enterprise that shouldn’t be required to spend marketing dollars where they don’t see as high a return on their investment. Companies market to their target audience. No one expects Neiman Marcus to mail catalogs to every neighborhood, but everyone is allowed to shop at Neiman Marcus regardless of their neighborhood. That is good business practice.

  13. Oh please. Another thing for a neurotic mom to fret over. I was always under the assumption that it was LARCHMONT thing, not a Mamaroneck event. If you are all so concerned why not call the dance school directly. As far as using a school directory – what about all the teachers who do outside gym, events, etc. Should they be banned from using the directory to call a parent re: an after school issue or event? This used to be such a nice friendly place. So glad I moved…

  14. MAS has never been included. It’s disgraceful and elitist. Not to mention the blatantly inappropriate use of school directories. Is this a 501(c)(3) educational not-for-profit organization?

  15. Ballroom Invitation for 2014- 2015 Just arrived. And specifically says, for other schools including Mamaroneck Avenue, Iona, RCDS please call for one and either slot is appropriate.

    • That’s exactly what it says. There are 4 public schools in our district and only 3 are sent invitations. Why is that? Why is it ok to treat mas differently? Why do students at sjp receive invites directly and mas does not? I think it’s disgusting that our community has allowed this to go on for so long. And how is the ballroom lady allowed to use school dorectories which goes directly against school policy.
      I’m sure this comes up every year. And every year it just blows over and nothing gets done about it. It’s shameful.

  16. I have a 5th grader and did not get a handwritten invitation. And why is Mamaroneck ave school NOT on the list but sjp is. Seems fishy to me.

    • There have not been any invitations to any 5th graders – not sure why MAS doesn’t get included. Heard a rumor that it might not happen this year. My 5th grader will be very disappointed.

      • Why doesn’t anyone blow the whistle on the ballroom lady, who solicits families from the school directories. Isn’t that frowned upon??

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *