by JANA WILSON
When Mary Hoedeman Coniaris got the call that she was receiving the Pioneer Award from the United Country and Western Dance Council (UCWDC) at its World Championships, she was stunned.
“It was a total surprise! It knocked me off my feet,” she says. “They made me feel so special.”
The award, which recognizes dancers who laid the foundations for the UCWDC in the early 1980s and 1990s, was given to Coniaris earlier this year at the World Championships in Nashville, Tennessee. Along with her family, nearly 30 of Coniaris’ former students came to Nashville from around the country to celebrate with her.
Coniaris has been a force to reckon with in the world of country and western dance since 1981 when she answered a classified ad while living in Texas: “Dance Instructors Wanted, Will Train.” From there, she knew she had found her passion.
Teaching country and western dance in Texas bars led to a 340-day-a-year teaching and touring performance schedule that included film production and dance competitions.
Then, in 1997, Coniaris met her husband, got married, and had children. The traveling got to be too much with a young family, so she pulled back from her hectic touring schedule. She did continue to judge at dance competitions, and in 2005 won a Country Western Dance World Championship dancing with one of her students.
Coniaris and her family moved to Bloomington in 2010. She’s active in the Bloomington dance scene and taught dance at Indiana University from 2012 to 2017. She fondly remembers creating dance flash mobs with her students.
“I choreographed a dance, taught it to [about 100] students,” she says. “We all arrived at Showalter Fountain as casual pedestrians and, at a specific time, the music started. The dancers moved into position randomly and started dancing.”
Coniaris now teaches a weekly dance class at ArtBeat, the Arts Alliance of Greater Bloomington’s new space in College Mall. She also sits on the Arts Alliance board. She says now that her children are older, she has time to bring more awareness of the joys of dance to a wider audience.
“I feel like I can get everyone on board,” she says “I’m all in and I know people. It feels like things could be bubbling up in the right place and the right time.”