Barbara Rynkowski has a stunning smile, charming personality and a quick step – three characteristics that have helped propel her to the top of the amateur dance tour.
She and her dance partner, Rene Ostarek, are currently ranked No. 1 for the Pro-Am over 50 division – a dance competition that pairs a professional dancer – in this case, Ostarek – with an amateur, Rynkowski. The duo has danced together for 11 years, sweeping their dance categories at an Atlantic City competition in June.
“It's taken 11 years, a lot of practice but every minute has been worth it,” Rynkowski said.
Some would say it's in her blood – her mother was a Rockette. “Every since I can remember, I wanted to dance,” she said. At 3, Rynkowski said, she remembers her grandmother taking her to dance lessons in Asbury Park, N.J., a few years before the family finally settled in Delaware after years of moving with her father's United State's Air Force job. The oldest of four successful Blackman sisters – Valerey Cordrey, Sharon Sherwood and the late Cheryl Blackman – the dancing bug never left Rynkowski.
Living near Dover, Rynkowski took dance at Marion Tracey Dance Studio, a classical ballet studio whose graduates included professionals with Boston, Pennsylvania and Stuttgart, Germany, ballet companies.
At 16, Rynkowski signed up as a foreign exchange student and spent a summer south of Istanbul, Turkey. Her dance background served her well there, and her stay sowed a love for Middle Eastern dancing. She describes the town where she stayed as primitive, but when residents got together, dancing was a big part of it.
“Everybody would bring a potluck, and eat and dance and sing,” she said. “A lot of dance movements tell the story of their lives.”
Rynkowski said she returned home with a new appreciation of the United States and Middle Eastern dancing. After graduating from Lake Forest High School and enrolling in the University of Delaware, Rynkowski earned a certificate in Middle Eastern dancing in Philadelphia, and returned to Dover on weekends to teach at Marion Tracey's. At UD, she also met her husband Rick Rynkowski, and the two taught school in the Caesar Rodney School District after college.
Dance remained a constant in her life as she tried different careers before the couple moved to Rehoboth in 1988. They now live in Lewes.
About a decade ago, a vacation to Miami changed her life completely when she took her first Salsa dance class.
“It was love at first sight,” she said. “I thought, this is really cool.”
Returning home to Delaware, Rynkowski called around for dance lessons and found the closest one in Wilmington. It didn't take long for a professional dancer to spy her talent. With Rene Ostarek at her side for 11 years, the couple has taken on the professional-amateur dance circuit and won big.
A pretty blonde, still fit at 64 and wearing little makeup at home, Rynkowski looks like a movie star on the dance stage.
Her glitzy costumes are designed and made by Ostarek, who also does Rynkowski's hair and makeup. “He transforms me when we go to competition,” she said.
But it's the dance workout that she loves the most.
“It's a fun exercise. You dance for joy,” she said. “It's a constant workout. I think it fools your body from the tip of your fingers to your toes.”
The duo is tops in the American Smooth division that includes the Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot and Viennese Waltz, and also the International Latin division that includes the Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive.
Rynkowski said teaching young dancers helps keep her young, and she loves introducing people of all ages to dancing. “You take on a different personality for each dance,” she said.
Every Thursday at 3:30 p.m., she teaches Ballroom Aerobics at the Rehoboth Beach Public Library for $5 a class. She will is offering an 8-week partners’ dance class at 7:15 p.m. on Wednesdays at Stars on 9 Dance Center, 24049 Lewes-Georgetown Highway, Route 9, Suite 24, Georgetown.
Rynkowski is optimistic that her next competition mid-October in Atlanta should be a success. She practices every day to keep her mind and body ready.
“It's all about muscle memory,” she said. “The rankings are always subject to change, but we'll see how we do in Atlanta.”