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A Send-off for Dancing Bill

Bill dancing with Barbara Glick, and alone in his signature style.

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.

Origin Story

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.)

Sobriety

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.”

Bill with Claire Meiklejohn (L) and with Kathy Friedman and Dorian Winterfield (R).

 

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 mother Edie, dressed for Halloween.

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 and friends dancing at the Celebration of Life for his mother Edith
Bill’s friend and dance partner Claire Meiklejohn has some more information for us about Bill and music.
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’s
Bill is already being missed in Greenbelt. Bill knows how to make people smile and laugh 🙂 and will have many friends wherever he goes.
The New Deal Cafe’s music coordinator Amethyst Dwyer wrote that: “Dancing Bill is, and always will be, a New Deal Cafe legend. His confident and enticing presence on our dance floor, movin’ and groovin’, will always be felt, as will his creative way of encouraging others to set aside their uncertainty and to dive deep into the healing and euphoric power of music, dance & community. Bill Barber has left a permanent and joyously colorful mark on the cafe’s music scene. Enjoy Washington state, my friend, but know that you will always have a home at The New Deal Cafe…”

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?”

And I’ll add that I immediately felt the absence of Bill at the Cafe and it happens every time a danceable band plays. Who’s going to start the dancing now? Who’s going to demonstrate the Hippie Spirit? And doing it while sober?
Bill says the trip to Seattle was the first time he’d ever flown.

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.”

Bill in Seattle dancing with a granddaughter, seeing the sights, and performing a karaoke duet.

 

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 (editor@greenbeltonline.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.
Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com and direct Good Gardening Videos.org, a nonprofit, ad-free educational campaign.

9 Responses

  1. Diane
    | Reply

    Wow, I did not know all this. Great guy!

    • Rachel Duda
      | Reply

      I’m going to miss him very much. He was very kind to me at a time I needed kindness. Best of luck, Bill!

      Rachel Duda

      • John AD
        | Reply

        I never had the pleasure of meeting Bill, but I have had the pleasure of seeing him dance!

        Maybe he’ll meet one of Seattle’s famous friendly dancing hippies, Mark Kelly (who I believe works for the UW libraries). He used to be a regular of mine when I was a barista, but I’ve seen him dancing for hours at music festivals from Eugene to Vancouver, BC and everywhere in between. You never know…

  2. Cindy Freland
    | Reply

    Wow, what a great story. I first met Bill when he told me “I love watching you watch her,” referring to me watching Heather Lloyd of ilyAIMY at Old Bowie Town Grille. Heather was playing her signature drum that she held between her knees. I had never seen anyone play that type of drum so I was amazed by her energy. Bill was a joy to dance with and always had fun with whomever he danced. He is greatly missed!

  3. SMT
    | Reply

    Really nice to hear about Bundy landing in another great place! Thanks.

    Candy Cane City was actually in a different location, to the right of the aquatic center, between the Roosevelt Center back parking lot and Braden Fields. Grassy area now, horseshoe pits behind. My best friend at the time lost her front tooth on one of the
    ride ons there!

  4. Patrick Shanahan
    | Reply

    I first met “Bundy” 54 years ago at my sister’s (Margie Shanahan) 16th birthday party at the “Duck pond” in Adelphi.
    He was decked out in a three piece all black leather suite including the pants! He definitely does not mind standing out in a crowd!! He will be missed from all the old Greenbelter’s.
    One Great Guy !!!

  5. Ken Urasek
    | Reply

    I have had the Great Privilege to Know Bill Barber and His Mom Edie and Brother Rick before He passed years ago for well over 40 years. As an “ adopted Son” to Edie and Adopted Brother to Bill I enjoyed seeing Bill Enjoy Himself and Dance the Day or Night Away. Bill was a great friend to many in the Greenbelt and Bowie area and always offered help and support to those in need. It was sad that Edie (95) went to Heaven on Dec.30,2019
    and Bill like many family members and friends felt so sad! Daughter Danielle and Family came to the Rescue to help Bill transition to a New Life in the State of Washington where He seems to be adapting to Being a Grandpa and Enjoying Life in the Great Northwest with His Daughter’s Family.
    We All Miss You Bill Best in Washington!

  6. Gene Troy
    | Reply

    I remember Bill from my MD days living in Silver Spring and hanging with the GD crowd. I moved to Seattle about 5 years ago but still love coming back every year for a bit to see old friends and places like the Nude Eel. Looking forward to meeting the West Coast version of Bill and showing him the scene here. Bill, if you’re out there reading this, please look me up on Facebook (Gene Johnson, I sent you a friend request).

  7. Ry Coremin
    | Reply

    Thanks for the great story on Dancing Bill. I watched him dance and spread joy at the “Nude Eel” for several years.

    And thank you Bill, for your contributions to the community for so many years. You’ve set a fine example for us to follow.

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