Law dean leads double life as ballroom dancer, law aficionado
For Nancy Rapoport, interim dean and professor of the Boyd School of Law, a typical Monday includes a 5 a.m. workout, business meetings and teaching first-year courses. Then at the end of the day, she straps on her ballroom shoes to practice dips, turns and lock steps.
Rapoport is admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court, has served as dean for law schools in Ohio, Nebraska and Texas, and started her deanship at UNLV in July. She began her double life of ballroom dance in 1991 and has been competing since the mid-1990s. According to Rapoport’s biography on UNLV’s website, her two interests require different skills.
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“A good lawyer must be quick on her feet. A good dancer must be light on hers,” she said.
Rapoport’s first professional-amateur competition was Ohio Star Ball, one of the biggest competitions in the U.S., where she danced with her partner, Mark Weiss, and a broken pinky in a splint.
Despite this setback, Rapoport said the newest and most complicated aspect of the event was her makeup. “I’d never worn false eyelashes before,” she said. “I had no idea how to do it.”
Rapoport returned to Ohio Star Ball in 1993, winning in two categories with her partners Bill Sparks and David Freeman. Since then, she has competed with broken toes and a broken arm. She also competed locally in May with her current pro-am partner, Sergei Shapoval, and broke her wrist in the final round.
Rapoport’s fighting spirit pulled her through the pain. She took second place in her category and was back in the studio for practice three days later. “She’s definitely a trooper,” Shapoval said.
Though injuries and dance movements can be difficult, Rapoport says her busy schedule is the biggest challenge. She participates in five to seven local and national competitions each year, including the Emerald Ball in Los Angeles, which often features dancers from Canada and overseas.
To improve her choreography and technique, Rapoport has also worked with Jonathan Roberts of “Dancing with the Stars” and Felipe Telona, a former U.S. Rhythm champion.
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The open gold-level competitor recalls her first local competition at Nevada Star Ball in 2007 with Shapoval, where they were finishing a paso doble routine in the hallway just minutes before their performance. Although much time has passed since then, one detail stands at the forefront of her partner’s mind and remains unchanged from that first event.
“She has a very special spark about her when she’s performing,” said Shapoval. “It’s something that you must have. You cannot just learn it.”
The pro-am duo competed at Nationals in September in Orlando, Fla., where Rapoport took fifth in the 9-Dance Championship, a two-day marathon of five American Rhythm dances and four American Smooth dances. She also took sixth place in Rising Star Smooth, a category for those who haven’t yet reached the finals.
American Rhythm, always growing in numbers and difficulty, is Rapoport’s favorite style. She loves bolero and waltz, but says she has never “gotten the feel of samba.” Before a knee surgery, she also competed in International style, which, Shapoval said, requires a lot of challenging legwork.
Rapoport and her partner showed off their title-winning American rumba routine at a campus event Oct. 11 to thank donors of the Boyd School of Law.
“I love performing and connecting with the audience,” she
Some of Rapoport’s co-workers in attendance had never seen her perform, attended the event. One of them was Sunny Mason, director of development for the law school.
“It was great to see her,” said Mason. “It was very entertaining.”
Mason noted that Rapoport’s passion, precision and elegance shines through on and off the dance floor.
From the courtroom to the ballroom, Rapoport has a winning personality. Her peers consider her loyal, disciplined and professional.
“Some people describe her as a cheerleader because she’s always very supportive of whatever’s going on,” said Mason.
Rapoport and Shapoval come from two different worlds but have found harmony in their love of dance during their six-year partnership of trust and mutual respect. She has gotten used to seeing her students at competitions, and seeing her dance partner at law school events.
Rapoport feels lucky to be learning from and dancing with Shapoval.
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“He knows so much,” she said. “It’s tremendous.”
Her partner feels similar fondness for Rapoport.
“I’m very fortunate and very proud and very honored to know her,” said Shapoval.
Rapoport plans to compete in the Holiday Dance Classic in December at the Tropicana Hotel, where she placed second in 2011, and has already booked her room for Nationals in 2013. She now has two amateur partners of her own: Ben Ow for pre-champ American Smooth and Keith Wilson for bronze American Rhythm. She is always aiming higher, and still trying to get that samba down.
Rapoport’s motto, in her career, dance and life is simple.
“There is no such thing as finishing.”