Put on your happy feet
Tucked in the woods north of Hayden at the end of a winding gravel drive, a converted dairy barn is home to lots of happy feet.
The white structure with an attached silo sits on the Starr family ranch. But there are no cows and no milking machines here.
Instead, wooden stairs lead up to the second floor and an impeccably designed dance studio.
Inside, 21-year-old Ryan Starr teaches ballroom dancing to young and old, focusing on bringing families together in a wholesome social atmosphere.
“I’ve taught kids from 5 years old up to 70,” he said. “You’re never too old.”
Starr began dancing in 2003 at the encouragement of his grandmother and quickly became a successful competitive ballroom dancer, working his way up from the basic syllabus competitions to the highest open competitions. He has accumulated a treasure-trove of medals, awards and trophies.
But now, he has given up competing so he can get teenagers – and their parents – to tango.
“I enjoyed competing, but I would say I enjoy teaching more,” Starr said. “It brings people together – brother and sister, parents and kids.”
The Ballroom of the Starrs features 2,500 square feet. Heavy wooden beams hold up the peaked roof, and at each end of the studio, giant picture windows look out to the woods and mountains beyond. During classes, gold and pink sunsets serve as an impressive backdrop for the quickstep and the waltz.
“It’s a good environment,” said Jaida Belle, a 25-year-old student from Spokane Valley. “It’s worth the drive just for the sunset.”
With boyish good looks and an easy laugh, Starr keeps his students at ease even when they’re making mistakes. He takes turns showing the steps for both the men and the women and then puts people together.
The easygoing atmosphere is one of the main attractions for many of his students, including groups of teens who learn to dance with their friends and families.
Leah Southwell of Coeur d’Alene brought her 15-year-old son, Sieger Bokschoten, because, she says, dance should be part of every young man’s education.
“It’s very stress-free,” Southwell said. “What I like about this group is it’s all ages – it’s the whole family. And you don’t come with a partner – you come as a social dance and dance with everyone.”
Starr focuses on American-style smooth and rhythm dances, which he describes as more social than the competitive International-style dances. From the waltz and tango to the cha-cha and salsa to the hustle and West Coast swing, Starr offers classes for any style of dance you can think of – 23 in all.
“I enjoy seeing the kids coming out of their shells,” he said. “It’s (become) cool to be dancing in a peer-group setting.”
Joel Shaefer, 17, of Coeur d’Alene, started dancing with Starr as part of Cotillion, a group dedicated to teaching young people social skills through dance and etiquette instruction.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh God, it’s dance,’ ” Shaefer said. “But now, it’s fun! We have a good time.”
Because being a paid instructor means Starr no longer can compete on the amateur circuit, he has given up the competitive dance floor for the family’s picturesque country studio.
He says he never has regretted the choice.
“I just love doing it,” Starr said. “I couldn’t think of anything better.”