DeVault, Davis ready to cha-cha

April 9, 2012

By ERIC STEINKOPFF - Bulletin Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a series of stories about couples who will compete in “Dancing for the Arts,” a competition to benefit Piedmont Arts Association’s educational programs.

When asked to describe his previous dance experience, Joe DeVault — who is one of 16 local residents competing in the Dancing for the Arts competition — just laughed.

“I attended over 35 junior/senior proms,” said DeVault, a retired educator and current member of the Henry County School Board. “That would be the sum total of my dance experience. I’ve seen a lot of different dance styles during that period of time.”

DeVault, who graduated from Woodlawn High School in Galax in 1960 and earned degrees from Guilford College and the University of Virginia, taught, coached or was principal at Rich Acres Elementary School and Drewry Mason, Magna Vista and McMichael (N.C.) high schools. Now retired, he was paired with Joanie Davis, community initiatives director with the United Way of Henry County and Martinsville, for Dancing for the Arts.

The April 21 event, a primarily ballroom dance competition, was modeled after the “Dancing With the Stars” television program. It will raise money for Piedmont Arts Association educational programs at Carlisle, Martinsville and Henry County schools.

As they practiced recently with their coach, Sue Ann Ehmann, DeVault and Davis moved through spins, dips and footwork to prepare for the cha-cha. DeVault said he is relying on Davis and Ehmann to help him through the two separate minute-and-a-half routines he and Davis will perform.

“I feel real fortunate to have these great ladies working with me in the dance competition,” he said.

For her part, Davis sees the competition as a chance to outdo her first moment in the dancing spotlight.

That first dance experience came when Davis, who grew up in Gretna, was 5 years old. She was supposed to sing “Pink Cadillac” in a talent show, but she became scared and ran off stage crying, leaving her sister to perform alone.

“I’m reclaiming my moment of glory,” she said.

These days, Davis, who graduated from Gretna High School in 2001 and later from George Mason University, enjoys aerobics, weight-lifting and running. She said it was important to complete both a recent half-marathon and the dance competition to set an example for her sons, 7-year-old Logan and 4-year-old Shane.

“When you start something, you finish it,” she said.

DeVault lives in Chatmoss with his wife of 47 years, Jerri. They had two children, Andy and the late Melissa, and two grandchildren.

Davis’ family includes her parents, Larry and Tammy Betterton; her sister, Jennifer Taylor; and her brother, Robbie Betterton, all of Gretna.

Dance coach Ehmann is a Patrick County native and graduate of Patrick County High School who attended the University of Miami before working in advertising and bookkeeping in Pennsylvania and New York. She returned to Patrick County in 1990 and began taking lessons in shag — a stylized form of beach swing — which is how she met her husband, Ronnie Brammer.

Just as fast as Ehmann could learn a new step, others would ask her to teach it to them.

She and Brammer occasionally teach shag, but Ehmann focuses primarily on line dance and choreography, attending workshops several times a year to stay current on the latest line dances from all over the world.

That experience is coming in handy for DeVault and Davis as they master the cha-cha and a free dance of their choosing, a variation of the rumba.

The cha-cha, introduced into the United States from Cuba in the 1950s, has elements of the Latin mambo — with a quick triple step, or “cha-cha-cha,” and rapid hip movements. Legend has it that the cha-cha was named for the sound of the dancer’s feet shuffling rapidly across the dance floor, while another story attributes it to a Latin seed pod used as a rattle to keep rhythm during spiritual dances.

Although originally danced to traditional Latin music in 4/4 time, it is one of the most versatile dances and can be performed to most modern pop, rock ’n’ roll, rhythm and blues, and even rap music.

Ehmann and Brammer worked out the details of the free-style dance and demonstrated it for Davis and DeVault, first moving rapidly to the side, then rocking and turning to “Desire” by the Redd Hot Mamas.

Davis said practicing for the competition has helped her build close relationships with others.

“Your dance partners really look out for each other,” she said. “It’s a relationship I didn’t expect.”


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