Poulsbo Sons of Norway offers novice folk dancing class

Kim and Mary Barker (center) joined about a dozen other adults for a good-for-the-soul beginning folk dancing class at the Poulsbo Sons of Norway lodge. - Brad Camp/Staff photo
Kim and Mary Barker (center) joined about a dozen other adults for a good-for-the-soul beginning folk dancing class at the Poulsbo Sons of Norway lodge.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff photo

POULSBO — “Down up, down up, down up, down up,” instructor Fred Aalto says, leading into a heel-toe jaunt.

Aaand we’re off.

This is the the newest addition to the Poulsbo Sons of Norway class lineup, a novice folk dancing class aimed at the inexperienced. It’s an autumnal Monday evening, and eagerness is in the air.

Aalto has turned our dance floor into an imaginary solar system: in the center sits the sun — don’t want to get too close — and so round and round it we orbit, first stepping to a rhythm, then switching to a shuffle with the same rounded motion.

There are seven of us to start with, though stragglers nearly double that number by class’ end.

It’s like walking on a mattress, or a spongy forest floor, Aalto described. Soon, we incorporate turns, visualizing ourselves as light bulbs being turned into socket.

(Needless to note, these metaphors are each sold separately. Picturing yourself as a light bulb doing circles on a mossy mattress probably won’t work well out of context.)

But like building blocks, the images Aalto demonstrates begin to flow together, and before we realize it, we’re doing the reinlender, a folkish jig of Scandinavian descent.

Aalto and his wife and teaching partner Linda hover gracefully over the dance floor, the bounce in their step belying age, as if the two danced here straight from Brigadoon. Aalto began dancing when in college in the Boston area; he’s now in his 60s. They instruct the lodge’s continuing dance class at 7 p.m. each Monday night, and recently added one for beginners which meets beforehand from 6-7 p.m. They lay waste to the “those who can’t do, teach” phrase.

“With this sort of thing, some people will take a very long time and some people will pick things up quickly,” Aalto said. “This gives the beginners a fighting chance to pick up things they’ve never done before.”

Never having done a polka myself, I called Aalto earlier in the day to pose a few questions about the class:

Cost? I asked him. Two dollars. That’s less damage than a latte, and it covers the entire night, so for those who want to stick around for the continuing dancers’ class, they may.

Dress code? Standard issue comfort, he said. Clothing easy to move in paired with clean, preferably smooth-soled shoes fit the bill. High heels or tennis shoes heavy in traction can make things more difficult. One of my dance partners said his soft-soled, leather loafers suited the occasion well.

Speaking of partners, I asked Aalto if coming solo really is OK, as the class advertises. Normally, you’d think showing up for dance lessons sans partner is a like having Huey Lewis without the News. But in this case, it pans out perfectly. Nearly half a dozen others came alone or with friends of the same sex. Every few minutes or so Fred calls for a partner switch, so that each student learns to dance without depending on another. It also allowed us to experience dancing with all different skill levels and body types.

“It gives you a sense of what you have to do to dance with anybody,” he said. “It really is a question of learning how to move and doing a number of really basic dances. It’s very, very simple and very, very basic.”

My first partner was a 77-year-old gentleman named Dick Berg from Bainbridge Island. Newcomers the both of us, we managed to find the correct foot placement before swapping for a new accomplice.

Next up, it was around the dance floor with 66-year-old Kingstonite Gary Henry, who joked he was “influenced severely” by his wife Linda to attend. But Henry made a good sport of it. The class was his third; he first attended the regular lessons, but hadn’t been able to quite catch on.

“It was too advanced for me,” he said. “I am the dancing equivalent of a sub-prime mortgage.”

Though he said folk dancing isn’t quite his usual style, he’s considering sticking with it.

“The jury’s still out,” he said.

But the verdict seemed to be in for my third partner, Silverdale’s Mark Reece, who came with his wife Peggy while their teenaged daughter danced with the youth upstairs.

“It was pretty cool!” Reece said post-jive, adding they plan to attend again. Still far from perfect, he and I had nearly mastered the turn — it may as well have been the Tour de France we were spinning so rightly. Rightly enough, wouldn’t you know, to earn accolades from Aalto.

“Very good, very good,” he had said. Forget the sun at the center of our solar system; see me beam with the simple accomplishment.

But the idea the Reeces seemed to have in mind is just what Aalto is hoping for.

“We believe strongly that dancing should be a family activity,” he said. “So often we see the situation where parents encourage their children to dance and they don’t dance themselves.”

That’s been the case for Kim Barker, a 48-year-old father of three who decided enough was enough. All of his kids and his wife dance.

“I’ve held out a long time,” he said. This was his second beginner’s lesson. “I don’t dance, so it was a challenging concept.”

But by the end of class, it seemed all had caught on, despite a little dizziness and what at times could be likened to “bumper-dancing.”

“This adult class is a confidence building class, that’s really what it comes down to,” Aalto said. He added it works well for the elderly, as teaching goes at a slow speed and movements aren’t jarring.

“The idea is this is going to be quite different from our normal Monday nights.”

And like any good mission to the cosmos, Henry and I noted this one deposits its students home in plenty of time to watch another spacey spectacle: “Dancing with the Stars.”

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