Idy Codington aspires to forever be a student of the arts, whether it’s in the back of a classroom or dance studio, exercising her mind and executing combinations until her bones beg for a rest. Dance keeps her grounded, and even as she nears 61, she couldn’t imagine her world without it.
Codington is continuously on the move — studying beginning Spanish classes and ballet at Florida State University, swing dancing on Tuesday nights, and acting as assistant director and choreographer for Tallahassee’s Theater with a Mission.
The latter is where she has devoted most of her time in town, putting in over 500 volunteer hours a year since joining the troupe in 2012 and winning the U.S. President’s Volunteer Service award annually. The theater specializes in Spanish Golden Age plays, and Codington delights in working for an organization that blends her love of education, history, and movement. When asked to learn a dance from the past, like the Spanish seguidilla, she finds research to piece together steps to teach to the actors.
“I look at a lot of footage of folk dance troupes, but I have to remember that these are from the 2000s,” explains Codington. “Steps change over the years because no dance is static, and nobody wrote down folk dances or what they did in Spain. These days I’m just trying to resurrect, because dances get lost and everything mutates.”
Giving history legs is a talent of Codington’s, whose own personal dance background is peppered with all styles and eras. Graduating high school early, she jetsetted to NYC where she studied at the Joffrey Academy of Dance and landed a job with the Ohio Ballet. She recalls her most memorable performance with the company at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, where they were ushered inside and welcomed with red roses at every dressing room mirror.
Though an injury sent her back home to Brookline, Massachusetts, Codington didn’t stay down for long. She earned her BA in Dance at Smith College and was awarded a scholarship to Vienna where she taught the Charleston and Viennese waltz to students for five weeks.
Upon returning, Codington opened her own dance studio. It wasn’t long before swing dance instructor Bob Thomas became her other half as they toured the U.S. and Asia as the Kamikaze Jitterbugs with the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers, led by Patri Pugliese.
“It’s really wonderful when teachers are passionate about what they teach because then it’s such a pleasure to learn,” recalls Codington of Pugliese’s influence. “He was a stickler for getting it right and we were well dressed from the skin out with great technique. Nineteenth century dance is full of fabulous jumping combinations like the zigarella and it’s just a treat to do.”
Though the Kamikaze Jitterbugs specialized in 1930-60s dance, Codington found a deep connection to older dance forms like baroque or folk dances from the early 19th century. Unlike the preconceived notions of historical movement, there’s nothing stiff or stuffy about it.
Codington, a friend of the late New York Times photographer, Bill Cunningham, smiles as she remembers his energetic spirit capturing herself and the vintage dancers, and how he said they could make any venue “come alive.”
She describes how these social dances come with their own set of rules, and once learned you can follow or lead just about anything. Her advice to newcomers is to relax, smile, and just have a good time.
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