Islanders fancy their fancy dancers

Ballroom dancing not just for weddings anymore; but a wedding is on tap

A couple of crazy kids from Siberia are tearing up the dance floors on Marco Island and bringing a lot of other Islanders to the world of dancing feet.

Well, they’re grown ups, not kids. Irina Kudryashova and Nazar Norov are in their early 20s. And they came here not from the small town of Siberia, Indiana (yes, there is one) but from the Asian town of Krasnoyarsk, where the climate is about as different from Marco’s as one can find.

They are professional dancers, now sharing their talents with adults and children here who are learning some cool moves, from Latin swing, cha cha and the tango to jive, the fox trot and the waltz.

“Nazar and Irina came to my door and wanted to start teaching ballroom on Marco,” explains Natalie Strafford, whose Island Dance Academy frequently entertains at recitals and such events as the annual Christmas Tree Lighting. They’ve also performed at the Orange Bowl half time show and in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

“Since the popularity of ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ many parents have been excited about having their kids learn all these dances,” says Strafford.

She now partners her studio with Modern Steps Studio in Naples to offer an even wider variety of lessons for all ages. The big hit right now is ballroom dancing. As the brochure for Island Dance Academy and Modern Steps Studio proclaims, “Bringing ballroom back. It’s not just for weddings anymore.”

“I have more than a hundred children now and about 50 adults, most in their 40s and above,” Natalie says. “But my oldest tap dancer student is in her 80s. It’s a nice mix with couples and singles coming in. They love to dance with Nazar because he’s such a good lead. The ladies shine when they dance with him. Some say it’s the most fun they’ve had in their lives.”

Natalie notes that the Russian dancers are the big draw. She’s right. One doesn’t have to be a good dancer to know a couple of champions when they see them.

Irina loves working with children the most.

“I like to take a five or six year old and make them into super performers. It’s fun to teach adults but when you teach kids, you have more of an opportunity to mold a great dancer.”

The children who take lessons from Irina and Nazar share their enthusiasm. As they hit the dance floor, they pay attention as the graceful Russians put them through the steps.

We surveyed some of the children about which dances they like best.

Alexis Buhelos, 9, Tommie Barfield School: “I love the hip hop.”

Matthew Fernandez, 9, a home-schooled fourth grader: “I like the opportunity to dance, especially the cha cha.”

Thomas Fernandez, an 11-year-old home schooler: “I like the tap dancing.”

Jacob Hartman, 11, a fifth grader at Tommie Barfield: “My favorite is Jive.”

Katherine Spina, age 7, a second grader at Tommie Barfield: “I love the tap dances.”

Maya Roux, an 11-year-old sixth grader at the Marco Charter Middle School, takes private dance lessons as well as these classes.

“She will compete in May at the Naples Grand,” says Irina, “and she reminds me of me. Someone coached me to be a good dancer and I want to do the same thing for the kids here.”

The Marco grownups learning ballroom dancing from Irina and Nazar may not jump around as much as the kids, but they are just as enthusiastic about learning some smooth moves.

Patsy and Ken Coffey say they love the fox trot and the swing.

“We just love to dance so we thought we’d give it a try.”

Carla Bottalla says she was taking lessons at the Naples studio, “but when I found they were coming to Marco, I was the first to sign up. These instructors are so talented and so patient. The movement, the hips, they make it so much fun.”

Other adults taking lessons from Irina and Nazar echoed their dance floor classmates.

“I love west coast swing,” said Connie Lariat and Randy Simmons. And Gordon Parrish says his wife is the dancer in the family.

“I like to watch the fun. It’s good exercise and a great time.”

Even people who say that the only “dancing” things about them are their eyes recognize that the moving and shaking that dancing can provide is good exercise.

Marco’s young expert Nazar Norov says that in Russia dancing is a sport.

“It’s not just social, as it is here. Kids in Russia start when they are four or five years old and they train.

“Even so, there is so much opportunity here. I can teach and learn at the same time. I’m getting ready to pass my exam for the adjudicator license from the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing. That’s the oldest organization for dance in the world.”

Nazar says only three other people in Southwest Florida hold that license.

This Russian couple is loving their work here and the people learning from them are loving the lessons. But Irina and Nazar also love each other.

“We became romantic about five years ago, after a year or so of being partners,” Nazar says with a big grin.

And that’s a good way to end this report — the love affair of these two talented, valued additions to the Marco scene. Now for the best part: Irina and Nazar are getting married tomorrow night, Saturday, at a private home here on Marco. Hollywood couldn’t write it this well.

Imagine the point in the wedding reception when the host tells the wedding party and guests, “It’s time for the newlyweds’ dance.”

Ballroom dancing may not be just for weddings anymore, but not many weddings can promise world-class star quality when the bride and groom take the dance floor.

For more information on Island Dance Academy, call (239) 961-5945 or 289-1968; Modern Steps Dance, visit

Contact Don Farmer at” or Chris Curle at

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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