Nancy Rapoport: When Law and Dance Collide

Written by Kristan Obeng

Deep dark tans and changing hair colors can hint to UNLV law students that their professor spends her spare time twirling on the dance floor.

“If I don’t have a role to play I’m shy,” said Nancy B. Rapoport, a Gordon Silver law professor. Her title comes from her collaboration with local law firm Gordon Silver. “I like having a role. It takes me out of myself.”

Tanning, bold hair colors and flashy dresses are staples of ballroom and Latin dance so contestants can stand out amongst competitors on the dance floor.

“They’re nice about it,” Rapoport referred to her students. “I like students more than clients. They’re fun. Ninety-eight percent of the time it doesn’t feel like work.”

One glance in her office at William S. Boyd School of Law shows two worlds colliding.

She proudly showcases photographs of her partner dancing on a shelf filled with law books.

Golden awards declaring she won first place in professional-amateur ballroom dance competitions are across from honors gathered from her 25 years in the law field.

She received first place in the 2010 Vegas Showdown Open World Pro-Am Dancesport Series. She won many awards but her favorite is, “the Distinguished Alumna Award from Rice University.”

“They can’t take it back!  I checked!” she joked.

She added, “Rice has cool people. They have people that invented things and then….me. They have astronauts and CEOs and…me.”

Rapoport has danced off and on since 1991. She primarily dances to American Rhythm and Smooth.

“My philosophy about dancing and teaching are the same- communication,” she said. “I want to communicate the music in dance and the subject in teaching. It’s about connecting to the other party.”

She experienced major dance competitions while she taught law students or served as Dean in various cities throughout the country.  Along the way she said, “I’ve competed in more than 20 competitions.”

Dance played a role in her decision to move to Las Vegas, although she said it helped that UNLV offered her a nice professorship.

“I wouldn’t have taken a job here if I didn’t find a good teacher. That’s how important dance is to me,” she said.

Enter Sergei Shapoval her dance teacher and partner for pro-am competitions.

“He’s 31 and has danced for over 20 years,” Rapoport said. “My technique needed work and he’s good at technique.”

Rapoport competed in some competitions wearing a knee brace after having surgery. “My friend rhinestoned the brace for me so that it would look more dancer-y,” she said.

“She isn’t afraid to work,” Shapoval said. “She brings challenge and energy. She gives something more to enjoy than the routine.”

He said her personality makes her stand out at competitions, adding “She’s spunky on the dance floor.”

“There’s one woman we go back and forth with wins,” Rapoport said. “Her technique is really good. She’s wonderful. At the Nevada Star Ball she wiped the floor with me.”

“She knows the game. She won’t go in a depression if we come in second or lose,” Shapoval said.

Rapoport said her husband of nearly 14 years describes her as superlative. “My husband said if I was a superhero my power would be enthusiasm. Everything is always wonderful.”

She poured enthusiasm when she talked about her heroes.

Growing up in Orange, Texas she said her parents inspired her.

“My mother was a mostly deaf reporter but she was a whiz at reading lips. My parents gave me every advantage you can think of,” she said. “They taught me how to live a moral life.”

She said her husband Jeff is her hero because he didn’t have the advantages she did but he joined the military and put himself through college and law school.

While working as Dean at the University of Houston Law Center, Rapoport dined with another hero- NASA’s Gene Kranz, the flight director for Apollo 13.

“He saved lives in space and he refused to give up. It was high stakes,” she explained. “He taught me how to lead in a crisis.”

Rapoport found other ways to connect with people.

While giving a series of talks and having wrote a book on the subject, she was approached to be in the 2005 Academy Award nominated movie, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.”

“It was a fun contribution,” she said. “It showed how easy it is for people to do unethical things- to slide down that slippery path. We’re all capable of it. There are no good or bad people. If you’re aware of it you’re less likely to do it.”

When Rapoport isn’t teaching law and dancing she adds to the 43 articles and books she has written. She also spends time with her husband and two cats, Grace and Shadow.

Her next dance competition is the Holiday Dance Classic at the Luxor Hotel and Casino from Dec. 8-12.

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