Line dancing teachers and choreographers Paul and Karla Dornstedt showed off their footwork at a dance party to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in Hemet in November. (Photo by Diane A. Rhodes, contributing photographer. The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Longtime line dancers Karla and Paul Dornstedt, renowned for their skills and willingness to teach others, have many grateful fans who became friends as close as family.
Terri Slemmons met them at a line-dancing event in Pismo Beach about 20 years ago.
“They are great role models in the dancing community, and they are perfect role models as a couple,” said Slemmons, who attended a recent dance party in Hemet to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. “They are known internationally for their choreography. They have a very unique style and they are beautiful dancers.”
Slemmons cited a treasured three-ring binder she was given that contains about 80 dances with detailed steps to each and DVDs demonstrating the moves. A poem on the front cover, written by the duo, outlines how to always “Keep the Magic.”
Many of the Dornstedts’ students have adopted the name “Keep the Magic” for their classes. It was the title of one of the first dances the couple choreographed that was taught and danced outside their own group.
“Instructors take dances they like and teach them at events where they are invited to teach,” Paul Dornstedt explained. “We are fortunate that instructors have taken some of our dances all over this country and the world.”
The two were born in the Dutch East Indies on the island of Java, which was invaded and occupied by the Japanese during World War II, when the majority of the Dutch men were separated from their families and sent to labor camps across the Pacific Ocean.
“Both our fathers were taken away,” said Paul Dornstedt, 82. “We both spent the war years locked up in different concentration camps, like thousands of women and children. During the camp years we did not receive any education. I was almost 10 when I went to school for the first time.”
The couple met in high school when they were both 16 years old.
Paul and Karla Dornstedt, at right, “Keep the Magic” alive during a line dancing party to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in Hemet on Nov. 11. (Photo by Diane A. Rhodes, Contributing photographer. The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
“Karla loved to dance and she was a terrific dancer then, still is, and I was not a dancer,” Paul Dornstedt admits. But he learned from a very good friend and from observing other good dancers at school.
He started dating Karla two years later. The couple married on Oct. 3, 1958.
“We have danced ever since we started going together – just for fun. We went through the fads of the ’60s and ’70s but mainly stuck to social ballroom dancing,” he said. “That changed when we were introduced to line dancing. We instantly enjoyed the camaraderie and the challenge of having to remember many dances to all kinds of songs/genres.”
Moving to Hemet from Fullerton in 1985, the couple started line dancing in 1992.
“When we showed our first choreographed dance to our instructor, Russ Gunn, he gave us the opportunity to teach it to the class and Karla and I were both hooked,” Paul Dornstedt said. “Since then it became routine that we would teach his class the new dances we had learned during our summer travels.”
After Gunn left the Hemet area in 2003, the Dornstedts took over his class but have been guest instructors in many places around Southern California and have taught at events in Las Vegas and at The Hague in the Netherlands when they visited relatives there. They have also taught at a resort in the Dominican Republic and on several dance cruises.
The couple has taken a break from teaching their own classes since Karla Dornstedt’s back surgery last year, which caused nerve pain in both arms and hands, the inability to use her hands and imbalance.
“All the dancers have been and still are very supportive. They continue to include us in all their classes and socials,” her husband said. “Line dancers are very positive and fun people. The Hemet line dancers are family, the most fun and loyal group of people we have been associated with. Dancing with this group of people has been the best therapy for Karla after her surgery.”