At a young age, Nora Garda was inspired to dance. While in high school, she was bitten by the science bug, as one of her teachers piqued her interest in chemistry.
Which passion would she follow? Both.
Garda, born in Argentina, is a chemist at University of Iowa Pharmaceuticals. She started working at the University in 1991 as a research assistant in the Department of Biochemistry; in her current position, Garda analyzes experimental drugs (or drugs under development).
All the while she has been involved with community-oriented dance programs, all in the name of making dance available to anyone who loves to move.
Garda spoke with fyi about her favorite aspects of her job, the joy she gets from teaching and performing, and what she gained by taking a big risk 25 years ago.
What led you to your job at the University?
I’m from Argentina; I moved to the United States in 1986 with my former spouse. He had received a postdoc position at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., where I would earn an MS in analytical chemistry. We had two kids, and after four years we decided to stay in this country. The first job that offered a reasonable salary, good opportunities—and sponsoring for a Green Card—happened in Iowa City. I fell in love with this city right away. I’ve never had any intention on leaving…well, perhaps during the long winters. Yes, I prefer warmer weather.
What are typical aspects of your job? What do you like best?
I do development of analytical methods for pharmaceuticals under FDA regulations. I develop methods of analysis that determine the quality of medicines as they are being produced, as well as their stability under both normal and harsh conditions (heat, humidity, oxidizers, light, etc.). Each week or month brings something different. Once one method is developed, I start a new one. It’s exciting and allows for some creativity.
Were you interested in science at a young age?
I became interested in chemistry when I was 16 years old. My high school professor in Santa Fe, Argentina, really developed my love for it. Before that, I thought I would want to be an architect or a lawyer. I became a chemist through education and experience. I learned the basics in college: math, physics, and various disciplines of chemistry—organic, inorganic, analytical, instrumental, soil, and so on. That theoretical knowledge is very important to understand the what/how/why of what I do at work.
When did you start to dance?
I started dancing before I started going to school. I was 5 years old when my mom took me to my first ballet class in a small, neighborhood studio in Santa Fe. On and off, I never stopped dancing. Classical ballet, contemporary, jazz, folklore, flamenco, social dance…I trained in all. I love to move. I love being on stage performing and sharing this passion with others.
A few of my favorite things…
A thick, tender steak with a green salad
Champagne, red wine
Lunch (or dinner!) at Leaf Kitchen, Atlas World Grill, and Devotay
Authors Marcela Serrano, Julio Cortázar, Marvin Bell.
Where to start with music?! John Pizzarelli, Astor Piazzolla, Santana, electronic tango, Vivaldi for a happy ‘get up time,’ so much more…
Filmmakers Pedro Almodóvar, Carlos Saura, Federico Fellini, and Bob Fosse, among many others
The movie Before Sunset
I never missed an episode of (La Femme) Nikita or Sex and the City; I Love “So You Think You Can Dance”, Project Runaway, Modern Family, and HGTV shows
YouTube is the greatest!
Gathering with friends at the Sanctuary, George’s, or the Piano Lounge
I also have a great time teaching dance to teenagers with no traditional dance training, and seeing them grow and become confident in this new skill. I like going to schools to do dance workshops during physical education classes. I do believe there is a dancer in all of us.
You’ve contributed to the local dance community in numerous ways, no?
In 2002, together with many other area dancers and movers, I founded Arts a la Carte, “a space for the art of movement” that I directed until 2006. Then I joined many other art organizations dedicated to making dance available to everybody: Travelers, ACE/experiment, KamKan Dance…
In 2009 I started InterDance, an Iowa based nonprofit art organization dedicated to promoting dance as a universal art form that crosses all political, cultural, and ethnic barriers. InterDance brings people together and facilitates cultural exchange. We develop community-wide participatory events in public spaces to increase public awareness of the arts, and we bring dance to schools through weeklong residencies, workshops, and classes. My favorite for the past two years: SEJH After-School Dance Club. I love to create dances for performance with those teenagers. We meet once a week at the school; once they’re ready, they perform everywhere!
What has been your most memorable dancing experience?
I have so many, and for different reasons. In 2006, I performed “The Iowa Waltz” (our Greg Brown’s beautiful song!) in Tenerife, Spain—people were talking about Iowa afterward. Many years ago, at the age of 19, I performed with the Elenco Estable del Teatro Colón, the most prestigious cultural center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as a dancer in the opera Rigoletto.
If you had the time/means to try something new, what would it be?
Movie making. I like to record images and transform them into videos that others can enjoy and relate to. Editing is addictive.
What about you would surprise your colleagues?
My dance colleagues always seem surprised to know that I’m a chemist. Not the opposite.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken, and did it pay off?
Leaving my country, my family, my culture, my familiar places in 1986. It did pay off. I found wonderful people, great friends here. This country gave me the opportunity to grow as a person and realize my dreams as a scientist and an artist.