Henry Bartless (center) follows instructors Barbara Miller and Julianna Carnathan in a line dance during their Team 2 Left Feet class at Meridian Park in Loganville on Wednesday September 26th, 2018. (Photo by Phil Skinner) Photo: Phil Skinner
Barbara Miller, a pediatric nurse and dance instructor, likes the way line dancing helps her students exercise their brains as well as their bodies. “It’s like doing a crossword puzzle with your feet,” she says.
She’s also quick to discourage her prospective students – particularly the men — from being intimidated by the multiple steps. “My husband and I started line-dancing with a church group,” she says. “We started with a dance so repetitious – step-together-slide, step- together-forward – and repeated it until the men got it and were hungry for something else.”
With her partner, retired schoolteacher Julianne Carnathan, Miller chose a name for their classes that emphasized fun over finesse. “We called it Team 2 Left Feet to show that it’s not scary to get out and dance,” she says. “We let them know right off the bat that they’re not being judged.
Miller has been a pediatric nurse since 1995, working for 7 years at Children’s Healthcare, another 7 at Gwinnett Medical and currently at Piedmont Walton. She says that a significant part of her job is teaching American Heart Association CPR classes and PALS (Pediatric Advanced Life Support) classes.
Teaching is a passion for Miller, as well as being a means for her other passions to come together. “Teaching is what I feel like I can bring to the table,” Barbara Miller says. “If the skill is learning to balance on one foot, if the skill is learning to do the cha-cha, if the skill is learning to perform compression on toddlers, I want to teach it.”
Three years ago Miller and Carnathan met at a YMCA Zumba dance fitness classes at the YMCA and decided to start their own line-dancing classes. “She comes from kindergarten teaching,” Miller said. “Knowing my clinical brain from nursing and her knowing how to teach children, we developed a system.”
Currently Team 2 Left Feet teaches three classes a week: one on Tuesday evenings and two on Wednesdays. Miller says that they can have as few as seven and as many as 90 students at a time, but average about 15-30 per class, with most of them seniors but some in their 40s and 50s.
A beginner class at 2 Left Feet will often start with a one-wall dance, with the students facing in one direction. “In line dancing, someone will call out a sequence. It might be shuffle-step, it might be toe-struts, there are so many different calls. By coming to class, they learn the calls of the dance.”
Miller and Carnathan wear matching outfits, which helps their students recognize them, especially when they complete a set of line-dance steps and turn to face another direction. “They start out watching me and learn the dance, and when they turn to different walls, Julianne goes where they can see her.”
Miller says that their students wear pedometers during class to track their steps. “They can do two and a half miles in an hour class, and it’s much more fun than being on a treadmill.”
She’s quick to extol the health advantages of dance classes, which can be reinforced by the social aspects of getting out and making new friends. “We’re moving and enjoying the benefits of exercise. I can go on and on clinically about how it helps,” she says. “People who dance can tolerate pain better. Studies have found that being involved with community of dancers and listening to music can raise the pain threshold.”
Miller freely admits that, far from making money, she probably loses money in teaching the classes, but says that because she and her husband have two grown children who are unlikely to have kids of their own, her students almost serve as substitute grandchildren. “The money I would spend on grandchildren, I spend on dance lessons. I’m certified as an NTA [National Teachers Association] instructor. We bought a music license and insurance, we give a percentage to the venue – we probably come out with 75 cents profit.”
She still finds teaching to be enormously rewarding: “I enjoy that little ‘a-ha’ moment when my students realize ‘I’ve just learned how to do a dance!’”
“It’s not only country music, we’ll throw in R&B. The electric slide is done to all kind of different songs. People who know line dancing can learn a 32-count system and put them in anything.
“They all love to do ‘Wagon Wheel’ at the beginning (class), they feel so accomplished by it.”