Spotlight: Ray Bayles
Every July, Ray Bayles
waltzes under the stars while the symphony orchestra plays the music of Johann Strauss, Jr. In full evening attire, Bayles and his partner move with other dancers across the amphitheater stage on Strauss Island in Elk Grove Regional Park while an audience of thousands watch from blankets and lawn chairs on the grassy hillside.
Bayles has been a featured dancer with the Strauss Festival of Elk Grove Inc., for 14 years, joining the company the second year of its inception.
It was after he
saw a performance that he
expressed an interest in joining the show.
Before that, he
had never even waltzed. .
"Iris Zimbelman, the founder of the festival, came to me and told me to show up for rehearsals," remembered Bayles.
Zimbelman was quick to recognize that Bayles
, standing a slender 6'2, with salt and pepper hair, would present a good stage presence.
Dancing is a natural ability that Bayles
discovered while in high school.
Growing up in the East Bay city of Emeryville during the heyday of rock and roll, the teenager found he
was good at all the popular dances of the day.
From the music of Fats Domino to the Beatles, Bayles
loved doing the bop, the stroll, and the twist.
"I think the twist is my favorite," he
"I still love to do those old dances."
While in high school, the dancer won a spot on KPIX Channel 5's
On a regular basis he
and other carefully selected teenagers showed their stuff on local television.
"To be chosen you had to be more than a good dancer," said Bayles
"How you looked, the clothes you wore, were all part of the clean cut image you had to project."
came to Elk Grove with his
wife, Carol and their daughter, Raelynn in 1986.
opened a silk flower shop and continues in the business today, designing all the arrangements personally.
Visit Designs by Ray Old Towne Creations in Old Town Elk Grove
not only dances in the Strauss Festival
donates and lays out all the flowers that decorate the stage during the four evening performances.
"Last years we had 1,800 plants there," he
"I believe that was the prettiest year."
Because of the time commitment involved, it is difficult to get enough volunteers to produce the four day festival.
So over the years Bayles has helped out by doing multiple duties such as working on the sets and even sewing dresses for the dancers.
"I make all the flower combs for the women's hair," he
"And I style all the hairdos."
With no formal training as a beautician, Bayles learned he enjoyed the ability to style women's hair and was a major contributor in the Head Dress Ball in Sacramento for 13 years.
"Some of the fresh flower arrangements they wore stood as high as 6 to 12 feet," he
"They could weigh up to 50 pounds."
These days, Bayles says his time is concentrated around his flower shop and working for the Strauss Festival.
"As soon as one festival ends, planning for the next year begins," he
"The commitment is very time consuming."
is part of a special dance troupe called Vienna Rhythm, and throughout the year the performers are asked to dance at fundraisers and other public events in an effort to promote the Strauss Festival
Rehearsals for the summer production begin in March, where the dancers practice two nights a week.
By May, the pace is stepped up to three nights.
"It's hugely time consuming," Bayles
"It's also a lot of discipline as well as physically demanding.
Over the years, I've had 13 partners."
At age 62, Bayles
still has the energy and stamina to continue the rigorous routine, and he
never fails to be impressed by the elegant, dream-like quality of the show.
is pleased that his
daughter, Raelynn has joined the dance troupe.
"But, one day, I would like to sit out in the audience and watch," he
While today, he
listens to the music of Celine Dion, Charlotte Church, and Josh Crogin, he
still pulls out his
old collection of 78 and 45 records and puts them on the turntable.
"I like to watch the energy of the hip hop dancers of this generation," he