If you’ve ever been to a music performance in Greenbelt where dancing is at all possible, you’ve seen Greenbelt’s Dancing Bill in action. But with his recent move to the Seattle area, you won’t see him dancing again, so here’s our send-off to him, with a bit of his (very colorful) back story about this 76-year-old hippie icon.
Quotes here are excerpts from a proud and loving email his daughter Danielle wrote to me about him.
William Henry Barber III, a/k/a Dancing Bill, was raised in Old Greenbelt by his mother Edith Barber, and he had a great time “playing with friends and running the streets.” Things changed during his teen years when he became a “common pain to local police.”
So he joined the Army! Wish we had a photo of Bill in uniform during his years in Germany and other stations in Europe. Looks like the Army didn’t change the essential Bill because when he returned, he “continued to enjoy the hippie life of the time and acquired nicknames like Bundy and Mayor of Candy Cane City.” (I’ve learned that Candy Candy City is the name of the playground at the site of Greenbelt’s volleyball court today, near the tennis courts, and was a popular hang-out for drug users and dealers, too.)
Then in 1974 a “near-death experience involving drugs, alcohol and police brutality” led Bill to change his life big-time by getting clean and sober. He “took his sobriety seriously and went to AA, NA and CDA meetings regularly.” (That’s Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Chemically Dependent Anonymous.)
With a job as commercial construction foreman, plus a wife and daughter, sober life was good for Bill. Even in 1981 when he sustained a severe traumatic brain injury from a car accident, he “stayed sober and made a strong recovery, with the support of family and friends.”
But for Bill, sobriety wasn’t just about himself. He was one of the founders of the Greenbelt Step Club, home to a variety of 12-step meetings, and is credited with coming up with that name. He lead “multiple meetings a week and sponsored numerous people in recovery. Many people say they owe their sobriety and or life to Bill Barber.”
Everyone seems to agree on that. His friend Claire Meiklejohn wrote to tell me that “Bill is passionate about his recovery and very proud of being 44 years ‘clean and sober’. Bill is involved in several 12 step recovery groups and plans on starting a CDA recovery group in the Seattle area.”
Good Times in Glenn Dale
Bill and his family (including his mother Edith) eventually moved to nearby Glenn Dale and their home was known as the venue for fabulous parties featuring live music, dancing, swimming and eating. His friend Barbara Glick described Bill and his mother as “exceptionally magnanimous hosts” who cooked large meals for the party-goers. He also hosted giant recovery bonfires where people gathered for meetings.
Bill experienced some hard times, with the passing of his younger brother Rick and his own divorce, but he “went on and did an amazing job raising his daughter as a single father,” in the words of that very daughter.
Music and Dance
It wasn’t JUST in Greenbelt that Bill attended concerts and danced the night away. He went to music festivals every chance he could, and managed to go dancing about five nights a week. He was a regular at the New Deal Cafe on weekends and with his mother, the Wednesday night blues jams at the Bowie Town Grille. In fact, Edie danced with Bill as a 95-year-old, her age when she passed on December 30th of 2019. A large crowd turned out for the musical service and celebration of her life, honoring her spirit of fun. (Photo below.)
Bill loves to dance and others who love to ‘play’ as they dance. Bill always is the first person to get up and dance. Many friends in Greenbelt looked forward to dancing with him every weekend!Bill can dance to any style of music, but his favorite is Grateful Dead-style music, which encompasses different genres – blues, folk, R&B, country psychedelic and rock .Bill met Jerry Garcia and traveled to Dead shows with Wharf Rats (sober group of Dead-heads). [Bill estimates that he attended 30-40 Grateful Dead shows.] Bill met Patsy Cline in the 60’s and melts every time he hears a Patsy Cline song.Bill saw the Beatles in the UK in the 60’sBill is already being missed in Greenbelt. Bill knows how to make people smile and laugh 🙂 and will have many friends wherever he goes.
Friend and dance partner Kathy Friedman wrote, “I would never have had the confidence to be so quick to be on the dance floor had it not been for Bill. He will be greatly missed by many people. Every time I’m there at least one person asks me, “Where’s Dancing Bill?”
Off to Seattle
After his mother’s passing, Bill decided to move to Washington State, joining his daughter Danielle, her husband Donny and their three children. There, as Danielle wrote, “he’ll continue to be surrounded by other fun-loving hippies, music, art, dancing, and the great outdoors.”
How to Send a Message or Stay in Touch
- Get a message to Bill by leaving a comment at the bottom of this story. I’ll make sure he knows they’re there.
- AA friends who wish to leave an anonymous comment can send them to me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’ll then post them here anonymously.
- On Facebook? Now Bill is, too! Look for him as “William Barber.” (If you go there now you’ll see a video of Bill and Edie dancing.)
- Danielle friends are encouraged to stay in touch by phone, too. Call 301-377-6791.