So a 21-year-old Boston native walks into a country bar in Kentucky.
No, itâ€™s not the buildup to a corny joke. Itâ€™s the true story of a Louisville man who couldnâ€™t have imagined that, right there in that bar, heâ€™d soon catch the spark of an illustrious career.
A visit to the bar became a weekly custom for Brian Barakauskas. His curiosity was peaked by the dance lessons going on there, but he was too timid to try it. He didnâ€™t particularly want to make a fool of himself.
So over the course of three months, heâ€™d sit on the sidelines. Then one night, he went for it.
â€œThat one night a week turned into two, turned into five, and off I went,â€ he recalls.
And so began the story of Barakauskas, who quickly discovered he was actually good at dancing â€“ very good.
â€œI just loved it from day one,â€ he says.
Itâ€™s been 18 years now since Barakauskas started dancing. His work as a competitive dancer, performer, judge and teacher has taken him to 22 countries and won him a flood of awards.
But Barakauskas has never forgotten what he felt at that bar.
â€œIt was just nervousness and awkwardness and not wanting to look stupid,â€ he recalls.
And thatâ€™s what makes him such an understanding teacher.
â€œAnytime youâ€™re starting something new, itâ€™s â€“ youâ€™re nervous; it looks like everyone else knows what theyâ€™re doing.â€
Once he got over the nerves, though, Barakauskas got addicted to competitive dancing. He mastered ballroom, country and swing styles. And over the ensuing years, as word of his talent spread, he started picking up more gigs.
â€œI actually had another business at the time, and so I sold it and just lived the life of the poor artist,â€ he says.
He didnâ€™t have a grand plan; he just took dance-related jobs wherever he could find them, traveling constantly and piecing together a career.
â€œI just was digging what I was doing,â€ he recalls, â€œand I kept doing the next fun, cool thing that I could make a little bit of money at.â€
At 8023 Catherine Lane, the studio offers private lessons and group classes on a nearly 2,500 square-foot comfortable dance floor. You can learn every kind of dance from Viennese Waltz to New York-style Salsa, Samba to West Coast Swing.
While some of Dance Louisvilleâ€™s students are quite advanced, many of them are beginners. Barakauskas has designed everything so as to ease the awkwardness for first-time dancers.
The other instructors â€“ three women and two men â€“ have varying levels of experience: seven years, two years, nine months. So however new or advanced you are, you have someone who can relate to you.
â€œI try to draw from the student base, and say, â€˜Hey, look at that person. That person is where either you want to be, or theyâ€™re the next step along the path,â€™â€ Barakauskas says.
Over the years, heâ€™s learned some reminders to always give new students. One of those is the importance of setting realistic goals.
â€œI try to paint the picture, right up front, of expectations,â€ he says.
So instead of aiming to win some competition off the bat, he encourages them to commit to what they can control, like consistently showing up and working hard.
Barakauskasâ€™ mom, JoAnn Lewis, works as the studio manager.
â€œItâ€™s fun. Itâ€™s been really good for our relationship,â€ he says.
Barakauskas recommends dancing as a fun chance to perform, to get in shape or to meet new people. If youâ€™re interested in signing up for lessons at Dance Louisville, you can schedule a free 30-minute private lesson, followed by 30 minutes to sit down and ask questions.
â€œIf you have any interest, I think you should try it,â€ he says. VT
For more information, call the studio at 502.377.4859 or visit www.dancelouisville.com.