To dance or not to dance, is a question Buena Vista local Randy Barnes has never had to ask himself.
Growing up in a family passionate about dance and music, Barnes and his siblings were involved with dance from a very early age.
When Barnes was in grade school, his parents started a square-dancing class for adolescents and started a journey of passion that would last a lifetime.
At one point, his family even started a dance group nobly called the Pike’s Peak Promenaders, which focused on international folk-dancing from Europe, the Balkans, Russia and even English country dancing (an ancestor of contra dancing).
Despite being young, Barnes does not remember any of the usual awkwardness or apprehension that accompanies teenagers when first introduced to dancing. “It was natural,” Barnes said without hesitation.
However, growing up in Colorado Springs during the ‘60s and ‘70s had its advantages.
“It was the golden age of modern square-dancing,” Barnes recalled fondly. In order to have a successful square dance, someone needs to be directing the dancing mob in the right direction along with the right steps.
This is the role of the dance caller, the act of directing is referred to as calling. Having the privilege of observing experienced callers such as his parents since he was young, it was only a matter of time before Barnes became interested in calling himself.
During his juvenile square-dancing class, Barnes would dance a few songs, then step on stage and call a few, and so forth as he quickly became more comfortable and skilled in the art.
However, when Barnes moved to Buena Vista in 1979, the Climax Mine had recently closed down, and the town was hardly more than a ghost town.
Any chance of finding a group of dance-minded mountain folk seemed as likely as oceanfront property in the middle of the valley. Seeing an opportunity, Barnes knew it was time to act.
Barnes and several fellow dancing friends formed the Community Dance Movement in an effort to welcome, instruct and inspire people in Buena Vista through dance.
Barnes and his associates would hold regular dance get-togethers and teach the basics of several different dances at the beginning of class, and then the party would begin.
“(You) get a taste of how to dance without having to go to all the classes,” explained Barnes. To enrich the overall experience, Barnes helped form the Buena Vista Community Dance Band (in which he plays hammer dulcimer) to provide a live music experience traditionally a part of contra dances.
“It makes it more real,” explained Barnes, who grew up around music. He chose to focus on contra dancing because it combined elements of dance styles he had enjoyed over his career, as well as providing the opportunity for more advanced steps and figures.
Contra dance is a style of folk dancing involving long lines of couples that traces its origins back to English country dance, Scottish country dance/reels and various French dance styles from the 17th century.
American contra dance emerged out of Revolutionary War-era dance groups and quickly became an integral part of American culture.
“I marvel that we’re participating in something very old, but it’s happening now – the solidity of bringing people together,” Barnes said with a shine in his voice.
He makes a point to mention that contra is not square dancing, and he is not a square dance caller.
“I’m an Anglo-American dance leader,” Barnes said as he chuckled.
Funny business aside, Barnes takes his leadership role very seriously so he can provide the best possible experience for those in attendance.
“I want to set people up for success, not failure,” Barnes said. “The choice of the dance is very important so they’re having the most fun as possible.”
There is a certain amount of pressure that comes with being the dance caller, and often there is no plan B.
“I’m the social engineer who has to do everything right,” Barnes said.
Over the years, Buena Vista has turned into a dance oasis in the middle of the mountains and currently boasts at least two additional dance callers besides Barnes.
“It’s a rare opportunity in your life that your favorite thing you get to do over and over,” Barnes said as he reflected over his career.
Indeed, Barnes knows better than anyone the power that dance has to bring people and a community closer together with every step.
“We’re a community, we dance together, we laugh together, we touch each other, we belong together.”