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All for the love of dance

When Paula Iacono studied dance at the Boston Conservatory, her passion was ballet. When she studied at the University at Buffalo, her eyes were on teaching. Now at age 52, this certified instructor not only owns a ballroom dance center, she has launched a dance company.

>Have you always danced?

Yes, for as far back as I remember. I have absolutely no frame of reference for not dancing. I formally started training when I was 5. I started with tap and went on to ballet. I'm not a tapper at all.

>You must have been a tiny child.

I think I was normal until I got older. I don't know. Dancers, they tell us we're small and we think we're big. We have this delusional view of ourselves as giant people. It's that head trip of always having to be small and thin.

>You are surrounded my mirrors.

Dancers are in love with the mirror. It's our biggest nemesis, as well. I'm very critical of my body. I've grown up that way, and I think it's ingrained in my training. I look in the mirror and think maybe it's not exactly right. Maybe my body is too fat here. I want to be taller. I want to be thinner.

>What do you eat?

Mostly fruits and vegetables and fish. Nuts and yogurt. I hardly ever eat bread, except croutons in a salad. If someone serves me meat, I'll eat it, but not on a regular basis.

>You're accustomed to having people watch you.

I love it. I remember my very first recital, I thought I was on Broadway. I had no clue that everybody in the audience was there because they were somebody's parent or family. I thought they all came to see me.

>A ballroom dance lasts three to five minutes. How many hours of preparation?

I'm always in training. Every day I'm either in class or keeping my body in shape. I do a form of Pilates, kinesiology exercises, stretches, ballet -- a minimum of one hour a day. If I'm getting ready for a show, one of the things I will do to ramp up is perform the piece several times in a row -- to build the stamina to do it once for you.

>What makes you a good dancer?

Most dancers have quit long before they're 40 and go on to another career because their body doesn't hold out. I have a dance injury from my 20s, an overstretched ligament in my left ankle. I've been fortunate. I never had the mind-set that I was getting old and would have to quit. I've only retired professionally from competition for the last four years, but I still take ballet class and do pointe work at the bar.

>Dance has exploded.

Even though all the competition has been around for a long time, shows like "Dancing With the Stars" has brought it to every household. I don't get to see the show very often because I'm at the studio. What's good about it is they're getting men -- football players, boxers -- and making it OK for them to dance in our society.

>Has enrollment in dance classes increased?

We're seeing a lot more men call and ask about dancing. I have to clarify what people see on TV is not the social dancing we would do at a wedding. Men don't want to look foolish out there. They are very pragmatic in their approach to dancing. They don't want to be criticized. Women approach dancing on a much more emotional level. They just want to go out there and move.

>Can costumes make or break a dance?

Absolutely. They can make or break you in competition. The look of a couple. Your hair, your makeup. I have a personal dressmaker. She knows my body, my stature.

>Tell me the best calorie-burning dance.

Jive. Cha-cha. Quick step. You can burn easily 500 calories an hour.

>Is dancing a good way to meet people?

Fantastic. Many people think they can't start dancing if they don't have a partner. That's the biggest misconception. The best thing is to get involved. You find partners. You dance with a multitude of partners.

>Do you dance at weddings?

Sure, but I don't dance like I'm performing. I do my social moves. I enjoy letting go and not having to perform. I need down time. I just want to be me. I don't care if I do a box step all night.


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