By ANGIE L. NIEHAUS
When Walt Medicis was a senior at Central High School, he was thrilled to be invited to the prom
by the most popular girl in school. The two had a perfect prom, dancing the night away -- or so
"When I took her home at the end of the night, I told her I had a wonderful time. She said, 'I
didn't. You didn't tell me you can't dance,' " Medicis of Jamesville recalled recently.
Now, years later, Medicis has become something of a local celebrity, making a name for
himself as one of the best ballroom dance instructors around.
Medicis has been teaching at Onondaga Community College for 20 years, for the
Onondaga-Cortland-Madison Board of Cooperative Educational Services adult education program for
20 years, and for the town of Manlius Recreation Department for 10 years. He has also taught at
14 local elementary, middle, and high schools, many area YMCAs and two recreation departments
across the county.
"People always recognize him on the street," said Medicis' wife, Nadia, who assists him in
teaching. "I think there isn't a person in Syracuse that he hasn't taught."
His longest-running class is the Syracuse University social dance course. He started it in
response to complaints in the student newspaper, The Daily Orange, that SU lacked a social life.
Since then, he has consistently packed in more that 100 SU students in his class, teaching
twenty-somethings clad in jeans, T-shirts and tennis shoes to tango, swing and cha-cha.
"Walt is a little suave guy, and smooth on the dance floor," said Elizabeth Krol, an SU student
who was enrolled in the one-credit dance course in the spring semester. "His class is great.
He's big into guys escorting girls off the dance floor."
The course is supposed to be limited to 100 people, but enrollment usually exceeds that, and
many students can't get into the class until their final year at SU.
"The classes have always been large," said Robert Bukowski, a seven-year teaching assistant in
Medicis' SU class. "They think it's an easy credit, but Walt takes a keen interest in the
students. He wants to make sure they learn the dance. But he goes beyond dancing in that he
talks about personal grooming and manners."
Although Medicis is a generation older than his students, there seems no doubt he's still in
"He really knows what's going on," said John Klamut, who took the class. "I guess dancing keeps
"The students say my class is a stress reliever from the rest of their classes," Medicis said.
"I tell them to exchange first names. Telephone numbers are optional. I think there are a lot
of romances in this class."
Medicis' serious dancing began days after his fateful prom night. He was walking past the YWCA
in downtown Syracuse when he saw a sign for ballroom dance lessons and enrolled. He also
enrolled in the Snell Dance Academy in the city.
Soon after, he left Syracuse to join the Navy. World War II didn't stop him from dancing.
On his nights off, he took classes in Columbus, Ohio, where he was stationed.
"Instead of going with the boys to the movies or drinking, I went to the dance studio," he said.
Once the war ended, he was stationed in Japan. It was there that he began his teaching career.
A shipmate told Medicis he wanted to learn to dance, and Medicis offered to teach him.
We would go into the broom closet, and he would lead me. It looked kind of odd: two guys going
into the broom closet together. But he wanted to learn," Medicis said.
This friend repaid Medicis by helping him get his first official teaching job. The friend went
ashore and found a dance instructor at the Marine base who needed help. The two printed cards
that said "Walt Medicis, Dance Instructor, Snell Academy" to give to the instructor when Medicis
applied for the job.
"I probably shouldn't say this, but it wasn't true. But I felt I was qualified. I got the job
teaching three nights a week," he said.
After serving in occupied Japan, Medicis returned to Syracuse and took a part-time job teaching
the then-hip, emerging dances -- waltz, swing, jitterbug, rumba -- in a downtown studio located
on South Warren Street above M. Lemp Jewelers.
"I didn't tell them I had experience. I was still shy. I thought I was doing OK. They told me
that I was good, but I thought they were just looking for business," he said. Medicis says it's
the people he meets who have kept him teaching all these years. "Some will admit they were
really self-conscious, but once they got there, they're more outgoing," he said.
Students 'love the dancing'
The SU class has always been his favorite.
"I'm reaching a younger group of people," he said. "They are keeping ballroom dancing alive the
way I see it. They are eager. They aren't just taking it for credit, but because they really
love the dancing."
Some students take the class because they are getting married and are nervous about dancing in
front of a crowd of in-laws and friends, he said. Many end up getting caught up with the
"One of my students is now working for Arthur Murray full time. A group of my students formed
the first ballroom dance organization at SU, and I am their advisor," he said.
As for Medicis' popular prom date?
"I've never seen her again," he said. "But when I find someone who can't dance, I think of that
girl's statement to me. She was my inspiration."