On a spring day in 2005, Valley resident Monika Barska was looking for work as a dance instructor — and found the man who would turn out to be the love of her life.
On Feb. 8, Barska and fiancé Henry Skopp celebrated the grand opening of their joint venture, a Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Southport. Their wedding is planned for this October.
It all began when Barska called the Trumbull branch of Fred Astaire Dance Studios.
Her dance partner at the time had decided to work at a studio in Stamford, and that was far from Barska’s home in Derby. “I was commuting to Stamford from Derby [to work],” Barska said.
She needed a job that was more convenient.
When she called the studio in Trumbull, she was told to go in and fill out an application. She did.
‘Love at first site’
“It was love at first sight,” said Skopp, owner of the Trumbull studio.
He was mesmerized. “She was very attractive,” Skopp said. “I was like, oh my gosh.”
But he gave Barska a different impression. “He interviewed me and then I didn’t hear back,” Barska said.
So after two weeks and no word, Barska took the bull by the horns and called the studio. “I was a top teacher, my students were winning [competitions],” she said.
She did not understand why they hadn’t called.
“I didn’t want to hire her because she was so pretty,” Skopp said. “I thought it would be dangerous, I thought I should let her go.”
But he also thought she would be good for business since she was so attractive and had the necessary skills. “She called and I couldn’t say no,” Skopp said.
He told her to start that Monday morning.
Boy chases girl
Flash forward nearly two years to just before Valentine’s Day 2007.
Barska’s favorite singer, Kim Wilde, was going on tour — 3,500 miles away from Trumbull, in Europe. “She had been my favorite singer since I was 10 years old,” Barska said.
Barska, originally from Poland, had seen Wilde perform there twice as a kid. “I told [Skopp] I was so excited,” Barska said.
But between the distance and the fact that the tour was sold out, it did not look good for the long-time fan.
Skopp — who had loved Barska from afar since they met — had been biding his time. And the timing seemed right, since Barska had finally broken up with her boyfriend and was single.
“I respected her,” Skopp said. “I was always kind of worried she thought I was pushing.”
But he did not let that stop him. He took the opportunity of Barska’s newly single status to declare just how much he cared.
A front door surprise
Skopp asked a French-speaking student to help him navigate a ticket broker in France and purchased two tickets to Wilde’s Paris concert.
And on Valentine’s Day, he let his admiration out of the bag for good.
Skopp took a bouquet of roses and tickets for the romantic trip of a lifetime to Barska’s front door. He was not quite bold enough to present them personally — he left them there instead.
What Barska found on her doorstep made her speechless. There were two concert tickets and two round-trip plane tickets so that Barska could see her favorite singer.
And Skopp was hoping she would want him to go with her.
Barska was nervous. “I knew he was a nice guy, but he was my boss,” Barska said.
Still, she wanted him to go with her — with one somewhat tongue-in-cheek question lingering. “I asked if I’m going to have to marry you now,” Barska said.
Not quite yet …
Girl gets to know boy
Skopp and Barska had a great time in Paris. “I got to meet [Wilde] after the concert,” Barska said.
Her father had bought Barska her first Kim Wilde album, and she called her parents after the show. “I called my parents from Paris and said I just met her,” Barska said.
Skopp and Barska came back as friends — with potential. “I started to notice feelings [for Skopp] a few months later,” Barska said. “I started to pay more attention to him.”
And what she noticed was a good person. So she set out to break down her walls to be open to him.
“He was a nice guy who really cared about me,” Barska said.
It took a few months until they started dating. “I don’t remember an official starting date,” Barska said. “We just started going out — to dinner, movies and walks.”
They got engaged in 2008.
They love … to dance
Barska was born in Wroclaw, Poland, and lived there until she moved to Derby in 1994 to live with her parents.
Her parents had moved to the United States six years earlier, leaving Barska to be raised by her grandparents in Poland during the interim. She was an only child. “It made me grow up,” Barska said.
She attended tech school in Poland and studied chemistry. In Connecticut, she graduated from Derby High School.
After high school, she started looking for something to do.
In Poland, she had begun dancing with her cousins. “I went to the studio one time and didn’t want to stop,” she said.
In Europe, dancing is part of the culture, she said, and they start at about age 5. “I would like it to be like that here,” Barska said.
She started teaching in 1997 at a studio in Stratford. And hasn’t stopped.
From painting to dancing
Skopp always liked to dance. “Since I was a kid,” he said. But he never had formal training.
In 1997, his opportunity to teach dance arrived. He was self-employed as a painting contractor at the time.
“It would be slow in winter and I would have to lay off employees,” he said. “Then in summer I would have to rehire.”
That winter, he saw an ad looking for dance teachers. “My mom said growing up, ‘You like to dance, you can always teach dance,’” Skopp recalled.
He replied to the ad but did not think they would pick him since he had little experience.
He was wrong. They hired Skopp and trained him for about three or four months. At first he taught beginners.
Teacher to manager to owner
He knew that his painting days were numbered. “I knew right away,” Skopp said.
Instead of being outside, he could be indoors in air conditioning. “And I got paid to be with people,” he said.
Within one year, he was out of the painting business completely, and dedicated to dance.
After about three years he became the studio’s top teacher. “They realized my potential,” Skopp said.
He started to manage the studio, and in 2002, he purchased the studio. “If you love what you do, you don’t go to work a day in your life,” Skopp said.
Dancing in Southport
Skopp wanted to open a Fred Astaire franchise in Fairfield and found the space at 3300 Post Road in Fairfield’s Southport section last fall. He sold his Trumbull studio in October and signed a lease for his current space that same month.
Skopp and Barska are 50/50 partners in the business.
It is Barska’s first time owning and running a business. “It’s a big change, more than I thought,” she said.
“It’s an adjustment,” Skopp said. “Now I have to run everything by her.”
They are currently the primary teachers at the school, but have staff lined up.
The studio offers lessons in ballroom and Latin dance. They can train dancers for competition, fun, or the all-important wedding first dance. They will have a master class for the latter when they tie the knot this fall.
Information about the studio is available at dancefairfield.com or 203-254-8250.