Dancing champ has all the right steps Marathon benefits community theater

July 26, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

They didn't allow too much dancing in the convent.

Juanita Barrett remembers a little ballet now and then, but that was about it during the first 18 years of her life with the Franciscan Sisters on Maryland Avenue.

"I didn't dance at all until I was 19," said Mrs. Barrett. "The nuns forbid it."

So how did the 62-year-old resident of East Baltimore manage to front-flip and electric-slide her way to first place in a downtown dance marathon yesterday to benefit Community Arts Project Inc. of Forest Park?

"I'm just a happy-go-lucky person, and I just love to dance," she said. "It don't matter what it is. When I hear music, I dance. That's how people know me. They come up and say: 'You're the dancer.' "

And now Mrs. Barrett -- who can be seen shaking a leg at almost any outdoor concert or festival in Baltimore -- is a champion dancer as she outlasted a dozen or so other contestants in the senior division of yesterday's dance-off in Hopkins Plaza.

To win the $100 first prize, a free dinner and a flower arrangement, she outdanced a couple of women in their 70s.

"Growing up, I liked big band and swing. This was in the '40s. I'd jitterbug and fox-trot, do the mambo and the bossa nova. You name it, I can do it," said Mrs. Barrett, who lives on Pittman Place with a husband who doesn't dance at all.

"Then came rock 'n' roll, and I loved Elvis. You know he got the idea of that rhythm from black folks. I could flip and swing. Whatever anybody else could do I would try to do better.

"Irish jigs and polkas, too -- I can do it all."

The contest, which included categories for youngsters, teen-agers and adults, was sponsored by FM radio station Magic 95.9 and a handful of other businesses.

It cost $10 to sign up for the marathon. Belva Scott, chairwoman of the Community Arts Project, was hoping to raise about $1,000 through the registrations and donations.

"We run a theater season of about five plays a year from October through June, other cultural programs, and we run a Saturday school for kids 5 to 12 and 13 to 18 at the Forest Park Senior Center," said Ms. Scott.

"Arts groups have to come up with creative ways to raise money. We don't have much going on during the summer so we thought we'd try this. It gets people involved. They like to do something fun, instead of just giving you a dollar."

Although the music Mrs. Barrett danced to under cloudy skies yesterday grooved to the modern, techno-pop beat of urban rhythm and blues, she likes to listen to country music at home.

"I haven't caught on to the Achy Breaky Heart yet," she said, citing the hit song and dance craze by Billy Ray Cyrus. "But I'm going to get it."

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