Decades ago, after watching dancers glide across the stage at the town’s annual Strauss Festival, Elk Grove resident Ray Bayles scoffed, “Anyone could do that.”
Little did he know that the cheeky comment would shape his family’s lives for years to come. With 23 years of performances under his belt, Bayles, 70, is now the oldest dancer in the festival, a Viennese waltz extravaganza that takes place each year in .
His daughter and grandchildren all perform in the show, which Bayles also produces.
“We’re the only three-generation family in the Strauss Festival,” said Bayles’s daughter, 33-year-old RaeLynn Springer. “And we’re the biggest.”
Since its founding in 1987, the festival—held on a special island custom-made for the purpose—has grown to attract tens of thousands of people yearly. Along the way, said Springer, it has become more than just an annual event to her family—it has become their life.
“Strauss never ends,” Springer, who has been dancing since she was 16, said as the family gathered for a rehearsal Wednesday. “Strauss is year-round.”
Bayles, who also owns the local silk flower shop Old Town Creations, takes charge of staging, flower arrangements and costumes.
“I’m not good at delegating, so I take it all upon myself. I hand pick the fabric, then about seven of us cut it and sew up the costumes,” he said while showing off some of the colorful attire for this year’s event.
Springer, an engineer for Frontier Communications and the event’s chair, said she handles the practical arrangements; her father’s the creative one.
“He has a vision that goes beyond most of us,” Springer said. “He can see the colors and everything in his mind.”
Strauss is such an important part of Springer’s life that she even planned her wedding around the festival. Her husband, Jason Springer, soon joined the production.
“He does whatever my dad bribes him to do,” she said with a laugh. “We have a joke here that you offer to do one thing and somehow you get roped in every year after that.”
Springer wanted her three children—Cody Bayles, 16, and twins Jakob and Emma Phillips, 11—to participate so they could learn valuable skills like working well in a group.
“They don’t have to dance, but I want them to be involved,” she said. “Being involved in this production will prepare them for the real world and help them understand the importance of community involvement.”
“I like that I’m embarrassed at first to get in front of all those people, but then I get over it,” Cody said. “This helps with things like standing in front of my classes in high school.”
As for the twins, Emma said she likes having an excuse to get dressed up and dance. Jakob, on the other hand, sadly recalled a time when he had to wear a fairy outfit.
“I was the only boy,” he grumbled. “They made me wear mascara and blush.”
This year Jakob gets to play the role of a “pesky little brother,” something he is much happier about.
Strauss dancers have been practicing three days a week for the last few months for the festival, which runs July 28 through 31. While rehearsals can be hard work, Springer said they are mostly fun, which was apparent from the giggling and friendly banter Wednesday evening.
Of the festival itself, she said, “It is just amazing. It’s really hard to put into words just how special this show is.”