116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Epilogue: SanDee Skelton of Cedar Rapids remembered for dancing, joy, unity
Celebration of Life planned Saturday for recreation department ‘icon’
CEDAR RAPIDS — “A beautiful light” and “joy” are the recurring themes in the messages pouring into Kimberli Maloy’s Facebook feed since her mother, SanDee Skelton, 85, of Cedar Rapids, died Jan. 18 in the northwest side home that was ruined, then rehabbed after the 2008 flood.
“She loved in a way that was so big, that she never really will be gone,” said Maloy, one of three children born to Skelton, a dancer, performer and teacher, and her husband, William, a postal worker, actor and bagpipe player who died in 2006. “She put so much love into the world through her dance and through treats and care packages for people — and all the things that she did and all the things that she was.
“The world is still a brighter place. That can never dim.”
Pastor Jaymee Glenn-Burns already was counting chairs by midweek, anticipating an overflow crowd at the Celebration of Life she’ll be leading at 11 a.m. Saturday at Trinity-St. James United Methodist Church, 1430 Ellis Blvd. NW, Cedar Rapids. Visitation runs from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday at Teahen Funeral Home, 3100 F Ave. NW, Cedar Rapids.
“She was just such an integral part of our congregation, and she did everything,” Glenn-Burns said. “She served in leadership roles. She led singing, she did children's time, she cared for people of all ages, she brought dance and artistry. She was a lay speaker, and could give beautiful and powerful messages.
“She was a friend to everybody. She was one of the most welcoming, hospitable people I've ever known,” Glenn-Burns said. "The Sunday before she died, she was in worship as one of our song leaders.“
It’s impossible to count how many lives Skelton touched during more than 50 years of teaching dance classes in her hometown, including 29 years teaching belly dancing, ballroom and social dance through the Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation Department.
Most knew her for her belly dancing artistry that spilled over from classes and into parades and various neighborhood parties. Others learned the Electric Slide as they boot-scootin’ boogied in her country line dance classes.
Some danced in the street in front of her home during the worst of the pandemic, when Skelton urged people to “get out of their rut,” get outside and get grooving with their neighbors at a safe distance.
She even put a fancy belt around Hashim Taylor’s hips and had him shimmying through a belly dancing class the first time they met. That was Jan. 31, 2022, and she didn’t have to urge Taylor, the city’s new Parks and Recreation director, onto the dance floor at the Northwest Recreation Center, where Skelton was a much-loved figure.
“My initial impression was SanDee and I were going to connect well. Her energy was contagious,” Taylor said. “It was a great experience. I don’t think I would have done it if SanDee wasn’t the instructor. I really enjoyed her instruction and helping me move to the beat of the music.”
She brought liturgical dance into her church, as well.
“She would get the whole congregation moving,” Glenn-Burns said, adding that Skelton also led exercise sessions there.
“She decided at one point that we needed some exercise, and she set up an exercise class here for people of all abilities, so we had a lot of older people that participated in some of it, and some of them did it seated. But we had the fellowship and the music and the movement, and she always tied her faith into it.”
She was a unifying force for her northwest neighborhood, Glenn-Burns said, pointing to the worship song “Go Make a Difference,” in which Skelton led the congregation.
“It's a real lively, upbeat song,” Glenn-Burns said, “and she would have the tambourine and get moving and get people clapping, to lead us out into the community to make a difference for others. In so many ways, that's what she did — she made a difference. And that was whether it was taking food to people who were ill or shut in, whether she was leading worship, whether she was connecting church and the neighborhood association. She had this real broad, welcoming love.”
She used that love to bring a peace pole to the church grounds, and invited Imam Taha Tawil to join Glenn-Burns in leading a service there.
It was “really kind of amazing to me that SanDee could bring the Mother Mosque community — the Islamic community — and our community together and say, ‘We're humans, there are things that we share.’ I think that ability to bring people together and see what we have in common was a huge gift and part of her legacy,” Glenn-Burns said, adding that joy also is a huge part of that legacy.
“She knew her share of hardship in this life, and yet, she had a joy that was deeper and went beyond,” Glenn-Burns said. “Even in the face of hardship, she had an ability to lift people up.”
One of those harrowing moments came as the northwest side levee broke in June 2008, sending floodwater rushing into her car as she was trying to evacuate her home and save some family treasures. She escaped through the passenger-side window, and firefighters took her by raft to dry land.
Taylor knew Skelton only for a year, but he also saw the way she moved through the community.
“Sandee had dedicated and loyal students who took her classes and performed with her for years,” he said. “She was great at taking classes out into the community for performances to introduce even more people to the benefits of belly dance.
“She was an icon in the Parks and Recreation Department and very active in the northwest neighborhood. Her spirit was contagious and she will be missed by her students and her staff.”
For obituary details, go to thegazette.com/obituaries/sandra-sandee-millicent-skelton
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