Spotlight: Dance teacher spreads her art

BY SETH ROBERTS | APRIL 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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The velvety voice of Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli poured into a long, mirror-lined room overlooking the Field House track on April 11.

Inside, 40 students moved through a series of ballroom rumba steps, from the basic box step to a slow underarm turn. Some were more graceful than others, and some left with a few stepped-on toes, but all left knowing how to dance.

That's all Diane Demarco could ask for.

Demarco, 58, is a former gymnastics coach who has been teaching ballroom dance at the UI since 2006.

"It's a joy to dance and a joy to teach people to dance," she said. "It seems to attract people from all backgrounds … It's an opportunity for different people to come together and share an amazing activity."

The Michigan native fluttered all over the room, correcting posture and giving out words of encouragement. Teaching comes naturally to Demarco, who was Iowa's women's gymnastics coach from 1980 to 1999 and taught dance from 1980 to 1993. She became a nationally certified dance instructor with high honors in 2006.

Her expertise is obvious to her students, many of whom return for more tutoring once their classes are completed. UI graduate student Julie Shepherd, for example, has taken Demarco's classes with her husband, Tyson, for almost three years. She said Demarco's eagerness to teach is a rare commodity.

"She's like the Energizer Bunny when it comes to dance," Shepherd said. "Whether the class has two people or 20, each person gets individual attention."

Demarco's seemingly boundless energy isn't just limited to the hour that class is in session, either.

She stayed with a pair of students for 20 minutes after her class ended on Monday night and made sure they mastered the sultry hip motions that form the foundation of Cuban dance before they left.

"[Teaching is] very rewarding," she said. "Seeing their skills evolve and confidence grow — it's an amazing thing to be a part of."

Demarco finds it so amazing, in fact, that she spends the great majority of her days in a dance studio.

In addition to the classes she teaches for academic credit, she teaches several open-enrollment courses through UI Recreational Services, helps the Cedar Rapids Association of Gymnastics with its choreography, and leads occasional wedding workshops to help soon-to-be newlyweds learn their first dances.

Iowa graduate Nicolle Wolken recently attended one of those workshops with high-school sweetheart Jason Huff and said it was well worth their time.

"Learning ballroom was frustrating but extremely rewarding," she said. "When it finally clicked and we learned the moves, it was one of those, 'Did we really just get that right?' moments."

Demarco said watching her students "get it" is the best perk of being able to teach, and she is grateful to have been given the opportunity.

"I'm just really lucky to do something I'm passionate about," she said. "If you're fortunate enough to be doing something in your life that you're passionate about, the line between work and play is nonexistent."

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