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The Heir to Astaire?

Probably Not, but 'Dancing Boy' Is a Hit With Hockey Fans

April 01, 2001|LESLEE KOMAIKO

MATT BARRY'S 15 MINUTES OF FAME BEGAN IN 1997, THE YEAR AFTER THE LOS ANGELES KINGS traded hockey legend Wayne Gretzky to the St. Louis Blues. "The following two years were miserable," says Barry, a Kings season ticket-holder since 1994. "Because we were losing most of the time, we had to entertain ourselves."

Inspired in part by Black Box's high-energy club hit "Strike It Up," a regular entry on the Kings' third-period playlist, Barry, a thirtysomething casting director, started dancing in his seat--"the worst dancing in the world," he admits. He did it at the next game, and the next, for the duration of the song. A typical combination--always improvised, Barry insists--might include several "Saturday Night Fever" moves, mimed rope pulling, miscellaneous herky-jerky fall-into-the-seat maneuvers and the always popular spanking-his-own-bottom routine.

"People would laugh," he says. "Then they would start throwing stuff."

He staged the act mostly for a small group of nearby season ticket-holders during the Forum years. But when the Kings relocated to Staples Center in 1999, Barry's routine became more of a spectacle. "At Staples, we were in much lower, better seats," Barry says of his new venue 15 rows above the ice. A star was born, and his fellow hockey fans weren't the only ones who noticed.

Kings management gave Barry a special "No. 1" jersey to wear at the games. Over the number on his back, in big silver letters, are the words "Dancing Boy," Barry's stage name. Barry's performances suddenly became regular live programming on the arena's central JumboTron screen.

"The guy is a Kings fan first and foremost," says Kurt Schwartzkopf, vice president of sales and marketing for the Kings and Staples Center. "This is his outlet. If you watch him at games, he gets the fans on their feet supporting the team. He's like a big cheerleader, really. Some football teams pay eight girls to do the same thing. We have them built in as season ticket-holders."

While Schwartzkopf says the franchise has no plans to market "Dancing Boy" merchandise--"No bobbing heads," he says--he concedes that "we're in the entertainment business as much as we're in the professional sports business. He's part of our game entertainment."

The passion some Kings fans have for Dancing Boy sometimes rivals their passion for the team. One adult fan called him a "dancing god." Another likened him to a Laker Girl. Brenda Diener of Pacific Palisades says that on the way to a recent game, her concerned 9-year-old son, Jordan, asked what would happen if Dancing Boy were sick.

During Barry's performances, his regular seatmate, Craig Byrd, typically pulls his Kings jacket over his own head. The reason? "I don't want my 15 minutes of fame to click off just because I'm sitting next to Matt."

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