MARION’S FIRST LADY OF DANCE.
Nearly every little girl dreams of being a princess…and Martha Douce Maniaci has helped that dream come true for thousands of Marion youngsters. Affectionately known as “Marion’s First Lady of Dance,” Martha is a living legend who has been teaching dance since 1943.
Known for her flashy fashion sense, Martha can carry off glitter, feathers, and sequins with the best of them and has a heart of gold for making others shine. She is the namesake behind a chain of seven dance studios throughout Ohio, teaching ballet, tap, jazz, and ballroom dance; all of which started with her teaching a group of 31 students baton twirling in her parents’ South Prospect Street front yard.
Her students have gone on to reign as Miss Ohio, become drum majors and cheerleaders at several major colleges, and Broadway performers. Her studios give annual recitals each spring showcasing the area’s tiniest ballerinas through high school seniors.
Dance instruction has always been a family affair for Martha, who taught alongside her late husband, Joe, and her three daughters, Marilyn, Luann, and Suzanne, who now manage the studios. Joe and Martha studied ballroom dance at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City and won a dance contest at the World’s Fair. She served for many years as the Midwest regional director of Dance Educators of America. Martha also studied piano and voice and loved the drums. She was a percussionist in the Harding High School band, 1946-1949, as well as a cheerleader.
Always loving and giving, for 25 years Martha organized benefit dances, raising in excess of $90,000 for leukemia research in memory of Michael Rollins, an 8-year-old cancer victim from Marion. She has also served as the secretary for Marion Midget Football for 35 years.
The consummate performer, Martha danced in every one of the Junior Service Guild’s Follies at the Palace, conducted the Grand March for Harding High School’s prom for 25+ years, and still–at 86-years of age–dances a mean Cupid Shuffle on demand.
“I love Marion,” she said. “I think it’s the greatest place. I just love it.” And, thousands in Marion love Martha Douce.