South Charlotte

He has a lifelong love of dance

Barry King, 64, has always loved to dance. He first took dance classes as a 6-year-old, alongside his twin sister, during his childhood in Massachusetts. He stopped at age 8 and turned to other pursuits until he moved to Charlotte in January 1984 for a job with a textile company.

Looking for a fun way to unwind after work, King took up country and western dancing with a friend.

"I really enjoyed two-stepping," King said, but he fell in love with one dance in particular, the West Coast Swing. He began competing with a team and became so proficient that he taught and choreographed the dance.

By 2001, King was ready for a new challenge. He wandered into Open Door Studios and signed up for adult jazz classes.

"I wanted to improve my moves, challenge myself and get better, and I fell in love with jazz dancing," King said.

King is the first to admit that he is "the worst dancer in the class."

But what he loves about Open Door Studios is that "the teachers are all so easy-going and they teach to all levels." He appreciates the fact that students of all levels dance together and that "everyone from me to the really experienced - we all get something out of it."

If King is enamored of his teachers and fellow students, the feeling is mutual.

Samantha Britton, a fellow student in intermediate jazz, touts King's "dedication and optimism" and says he is a "great practice partner."

Audrey Baran, who has taught King both jazz and contemporary dance, says that she loves teaching him because "he breaks all the stereotypes of a typical dancer but embodies everything we love in a dancer - he is eager, has a great attitude and is a real team player."

Adds Amy Dorr, who has taught King hip-hop and jazz, "there is no one like him." She praises his dedication, noting that "he will come to rehearsal an hour early to go over the steps by himself."

"Everyone else I know his age is a couch potato," Dorr said. "He comes to dance because he genuinely loves to dance. That's what it's all about."

Now King is eager to share his love of dance with others. He approached Jackie White, the owner of Open Door Studios, to establish an annual scholarship for a deserving dancer.

"I want to inspire others to continue to dance and take it to whatever level they can," King said. "It could be someone from this studio becomes a professional dancer, or they could be like me and just get better and have fun."

The first $1,000 scholarship was awarded during the spring recital to Anna Maria Gonzalez, 16, a junior at Northwest School of the Arts.

"She is a wonderful dancer and is hard working and modest," said White, who said the decision to have Gonzalez be the first scholarship recipient was unanimous. "She shares Barry's giving spirit, so she was a good fit that way, too."

King is not sure how much longer he will be able to continue to dance, due to recent health concerns and his imminent retirement.

But thanks to the scholarship he established at Open Door Studios, his love of dance will continue to benefit other dancers.

"This scholarship is the greatest thing anyone could do for our students," White said. "And it shows how much he values the studio and everyone here."