Dance with a smile, the rest will follow

Jim and Karen Vedder showing their dance moves at XYZ Studio

Paul Barger started dancing in Washington D.C many years ago, after reading a story in The Washington Post about the perks of ballroom dancing.

“It was funny, one guy said, ‘Where else can I go and touch all these women and not get slapped?’” said Paul Barger, who soon started taking classes, not for the women, but for the dancing and the friendship he found there. “It was a great community. We were all brought together by ballroom dancing and we attended each others’ weddings, funerals, birthdays and kids’ graduations.”

Then one day Mary-Brooke, then Pratt, walked in and was impressed with Paul Barger’s moves.

“The first time I danced with Paul it was like dancing on a cloud,” Mary-Brooke Barger said.

Soon the two were dancing and then married and moved to San Juan Island.

They are not only dancing today, but also teaching islanders all the right moves.

You can join Paul and Mary-Brooke Barger’s classes twice a week at the XYZ Studio.

For couples like Karen and Jim Vedders, the classes have added romance to their marriage and enriched their social lives with a community of friends who like to dance together.

“We dance together, we gather at each others’ homes and go out on the town after dance lessons,” said Vedder. “We share lots of laughs.”

Jim Vedder started dancing to “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” “Sherry” and “Louie, Louie” when he was 15 years old and as an adult he often asked his wife to join him on the dance floor, or at  least take a few lessons.

She finally agreed several years ago.

When they started taking lessons, Karen Vedder was terrified.

She was not a natural dancer and she stepped on the dance instructor’s feet and she wouldn’t let her husband lead. But over the years she learned the moves, started to relax and began to enjoy herself while dancing the Rumba, the Cha Cha, Waltz, Swing and Foxtrot.

“We think the Latin dances are the sexiest, but all of the dances have their appeal,” Jim Vedder said. “For the waltz, think elegance – I imagine Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. For Swing, it’s sheer exuberance and the compelling beat – say the Animals or the Talking Heads. And for Foxtrot, you’ve got to picture Frank Sinatra and his total command of the universe.”

For Paul Barger, watching students progress over the years is one of the most rewarding aspects of dance instruction.

“It’s great to see people have that eureka moment,” said Paul Barger. “And see people become confident in something they weren’t confident about.”

Paul Barger describes his first dance lessons as nerve wracking, but once he realized that mistakes are part of the learning process, he loosened up ­— that’s when the magic happened.

“Dance develops this intense sense of awareness of what your bodies are doing — a call and response that’s unsaid, that’s part of the beauty of ballroom dance,” said Paul Barger. “It’s not about being perfect. It’s about enjoying the music, the movement and each other.”

For the Vedders, dancing is now interwoven into their daily lives, extending past the weekly lessons to weddings, nights at the Rumor Mill and even at home.

“It’s very romantic,” said Karen Vedder. “We usually dance for about ten minutes every night after dinner.”

Paul Barger said the great thing about ballroom dancing is that couples can do it for their entire life.

“It’s sort of like painting a picture together or making a piece of music together,” said Jim Vedder. “Sometimes you get lost in the music and each other.”

The Bargers’ lessons draw a crowd anywhere from a few couples to twenty people, but the Bargers are always looking for more men to join the dancing community.

“If fellows only knew how much their relationships with their girlfriends or potential relationships would be enriched by dancing, they would be lining up outside the studio,” said Paul Barger. “It’s more subtle than birds strutting around showing their feathers, but it enhances your social skills.”

And the road to becoming a dancer starts with just one thing, according to Jim Vedder.

“Its like the old saying, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,’” Vedder said. “Take it one step at a time and every step along the way can be enjoyable if you just relax.”

The Bargers only have one requirement for their students, once they hit the dance floor.

“The most important thing is that people come ready, willing and able to wear a smile,” Paul Barger said. “Then the dancing will follow.”