Count it off: “5…6…7…8!” Say what? For many of the Woodbury Dance Center (WDC) Dancing Dads, that’s exactly the response they had at their first rehearsal with WDC owner Kathy Johnson Mueller. Plié? Shuffle ball change? Grapevine? The dancing world was foreign and even a place some unwillingly found themselves exploring.
Joey Hornilla says his wife signed him up. Even though he didn’t go kicking and screaming, he wasn’t exactly thrilled. Maybe it was the lack of experience or possibly the thought of wearing a tutu that kept him from dancing with joy. Hornilla recalls that first night he “went in with a snarl” but to his surprise he says he “came out with a smile.” No tights. No tutus. It turned out to be just the beginning of close friendships and memories at WDC. That was 16 years ago when the Dancing Dads were in their third season.
Each of the Dancing Dads joins for different reasons. Keith Pabich found his way into the group out of necessity. The two-hour recitals every June literally became a pain as he forced his 6’7” frame into an auditorium seat. “I had no idea what dance was all about,” he says. His daughter Elizabeth, a dancer at WDC, wrote a report for school arguing dance was one of the toughest sports for athletes. Pabich had his doubts despite knowing NFL players pick up dance in the offseason to practice coordination of their hands and feet. He says he had “absolutely zero experience” with dance when he started; 10 years later, he finally feels he’s reached the point where he’s now a “little bit more than zero.”
It’s a laid-back environment. There really isn’t any pressure to have to know every step. Melissa Shurson, one of the Dancing Moms, danced through high school. She says, “You don’t catch on as quickly as an adult.” The WDC instructors make it fun; Mueller has even been known to have Minnesota Wild score updates during rehearsal.
Mueller and her sister, Buffy Johnson Breen, opened their studio in 1995. They selected Woodbury because it was a growing community. Community is what Woodbury Dance Center has become for the Dancing Moms and Dads. Every week after rehearsal, the group meets at Ray J’s. Some of the original guys still meet them at Ray J’s even though they’ve “retired.”
Mueller describes the special camaraderie. “They welcome the new guys and pretty soon they’re considered part of the old guys,” Mueller says. They have become support systems for one another. One dad joined as a special surprise to his graduating daughter; it was a group effort to keep it a secret until the recitals. The Dancing Dads and Moms provide everything from plumber recommendations and participating in the Polar Plunge to painting a member’s house while he was injured. Shurson says joining the group has introduced her to other dance parents she wouldn’t have otherwise met.
Because recital weekends can be long, the Dads host a tailgate for all the dancers. It’s all about the kids, even the performance at the recitals. The Dancing Dads and Moms have graced the stage in a number of roles including Greased Lightning, Ghostbusters, All the Single Ladies and a Prince tribute. They close each of the nine recitals in June and have become fan favorites. After the final recital, there is a standing tradition to go to Wild Bill’s where they flash mob one last performance together.
“I had no clue it would be a part of my life,” Pabich says. Now it’s something he looks forward to every week.