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Brooksville woman's life has been filled with dance, plain and fancy

Diane Chiucchi at the bar for a portrait in her studio, Brooksville Dance Academy. She started dancing at age 3 where her parents ran a dance studio in Ithaca, N.Y.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Diane Chiucchi at the bar for a portrait in her studio, Brooksville Dance Academy. She started dancing at age 3 where her parents ran a dance studio in Ithaca, N.Y.

How long have you lived in Hernando County, and where do you live? Where did you live previously?

I was born in Ithaca, N.Y., and then moved to New York City. I moved to Boca Raton, where I lived for two years. While there, I met my husband and he moved back to New York with me. We lived in Ithaca for 23 years before moving to Brooksville. We've been here for 10 years now.

Who are the members of your family?

My husband, Ralph, and our daughter, Leslie Ann Chiucchi, but everyone calls her L.A. She lives in Brooksville. My sister, Rosalie, and her husband, Carman Amoroso, live in Ithaca. We have many nieces and nephews, too.

Tell us about your career.

My parents, Margaret and Stanley Bower, owned the Bower School of Dance in Ithaca. I started dancing at the age of 3 and haven't stopped yet. At the age of 16, I auditioned and got a summer replacement job with the Rockettes. The next year, I was hired with a permanent position. My sister was also a Rockette. She started right after high school, a few years before me.

I was a Rockette for 10 years. During that time, we performed in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, at Madison Square Garden, and we were in two television specials.

I can remember dancing above the lake at Central Park once. It was a charity event. And we even performed for the United Nations once.

When I moved to Boca Raton, I started doing choreography for theater, which is where I met my husband. He was the leading man in one of the productions I was working for. He moved back with me to Ithaca, and we got married there.

At the time, my sister had taken over the family dance studio, but she changed the name to the Ithaca Dance Studio because she had married and was no longer a Bower. But soon after moving back, she asked me to help out at the studio. She began having health problems and needed some help. I stayed for 23 years. It was a lot of work; lots of weeks I worked six and seven days. And then there were competitions. It's a lot of work, but very rewarding.

If it weren't for my husband, I might still be there. Ralph's job led us to Brooksville in 1999. His family lives here, and he really wanted to be closer to them, and my folks had already passed. And by that time, my sister was doing better and took back the studio.

I opened my studio, the Brooksville Dance Academy, in 2001. At first I only wanted to work four days a week. But then my daughter joined me, and things have taken off. She is actually doing most of the teaching now.

At this time, I am teaching only two classes a week, but I'm still the owner, consultant and secretary. I have no plans to retire and hang up my dance shoes.

What kinds of activities are you involved in now?

Through the studio, we put on benefit performances at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. We have a recital every year — this year it's June 13 — and that keeps me busy. We are also putting together our new summer program.

My daughter brought a lot of energy and ideas when she came on board. She has expanded our staff to eight teachers. And we're now planning an expansion, which means we'll have to move into a larger location. The new studio will be called the Brooksville Academy of the Arts, and will offer much more than dancing.

Do you have any special hobbies?

I show purebred dogs. I have whippets and French bulldogs. I'm a member of the Pasco Florida Kennel Club, which is one of five clubs in the Florida Classic Cluster off Lockhart Road east of Brooksville. I've been doing this for 10 years, basically since we moved here.

What are your favorite things to do in Hernando County?

We love to be part of the Brooksville Christmas Parade, and we've performed at the Bandshell Bash. Personally, I like everything to do with the arts, so I love to go to arts and craft shows. I like to visit Weeki Wachee Springs and Pine Island beach. And the first place I visited when we moved here was Rogers' Christmas House. It's still a favorite of mine.

Since we're so close to the Withlacoochee Forest, we enjoy hiking, as well as fishing at Silver Lake.

What do you think would make Hernando County a better place to live?

I love Hernando County, especially Brooksville. It's so different from New York. Everyone told me I would experience culture shock after moving here, but I think I fit right in.

In a way, I'd like to think that by providing things for kids to do, a safe place for them to hang out, that I'm helping Hernando County. Kids need things to do, and so many of the arts have been cut from the school budgets. Very soon we're going to be setting up a scholarship so kids who can't afford to take classes will be able to.

Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.

I like to ride on my husband's Harley. About five or six years ago, he bought one, and we both like it. Other than that, my life is an open book.

Hernando Neighbors is an occasional feature of the Hernando Times. Do you know someone who would make a good profile? We'd like to hear from you. Contact Jean Hayes, community news coordinator, at jhayes@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1438.

Brooksville woman's life has been filled with dance, plain and fancy 05/16/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 16, 2009 10:57am]
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