@story and images MARCUS COKER
Barry Mounce, forty-one, hunches underneath the hood of a mini-van on Sixth Street in Fort Smith. His eyes are covered by protective glasses, and his hands are covered in grease. The garage is not air conditioned, but Barry is used to it, used to the heat and gasoline fumes so strong they have peeled the paint off the ceiling. Barry fixes cars. In fact, Barry owns this garage called I Fix Cars (IFC).
“Easy check writing—that was the idea [behind the business name]. You can write it with a crayon,” says Barry as he laughs.
Barry grew up in Fort Smith and has been in the garage since childhood. “If I wanted something, I had to fix it,” says Barry. He started with bicycles, then motorcycles. “When I was sixteen, I owned fourteen at one time. I wanted a car, [but] I couldn’t afford one that worked, so I had to fix one.”
When he wasn’t busy fixing things, Barry spent time at Crystal Palace Skating Rink. He started skating when he was seven and joined the speed team when he was twelve. One of his first jobs was at the rink, where he worked as a floor guard and DJ. The rink is also where Barry, the mechanic, started dancing. “[My friends and I] always enjoyed goofing off to the music. At first, we didn’t think of it as dancing. [We were] trying to mimic Michael Jackson, to show off.”
After high school, Barry completed a degree in automotive repair from Westark Community College, but had difficulty finding permanent work. “I looked too young to get a job in automotive. I was living in an efficiency apartment, but I couldn’t get ahead. I kept spending everything I made, paying electric, paying rent. I signed up at Fred Astaire [dance studio in Fort Smith] to see if I could be a junior dance instructor. At the same time, I was trying to sell Rainbow vacuum cleaners. I worked at the skating rink on Friday and Saturday nights. I wondered- All I’m doing is working. How do you go broke working?
“I was working all those jobs to make things happen, but couldn’t sell a Rainbow to save my life. At Fred Astaire, it was so serious.” Barry, however, was not so serious, and that become a problem. “We were having a ball. I was so excited; it was my first one.” They called Barry’s name. “I did a front hand kick, like a donkey. The studio was pretty much like, he ain’t gonna work out.”
There were other jobs that didn’t last. Finally, Barry opened IFC, where he’s been for the last eighteen years. “I enjoy working on cars, and I’ll always have to fix things, I know that.”
Auto repair might not seem like a divine calling, but Barry believes it is. God creates; Barry fixes things. When he’s elbow-deep in grease, he feels a spiritual connection. “I don’t care if you’re gluing Popsicle sticks together, if you’re making something, you’ll satisfy something about you,” he says, explaining his theory.
Barry’s hobbies—like skating—have come and gone, but he’s never stopped dancing. Even when he’s working at IFC, there’s often music playing in the background—Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Dean Martin. For Barry, dancing is a way to connect with others. “People show their best side while they’re dancing.”
Watching Barry dance is pure entertainment. When he steps onto the dance floor at Momentum Dance Concepts in high-top canvas shoes, it seems as if his feet don’t stop moving for hours. The beat fills the room as it pulses from the speakers, and sweat drips off Barry’s head as if in rhythm. He pops back on his heels, his right arm swinging like a pendulum. His left arm, connected to his dance partner, rises to eye level, and she begins to spin. The music is big band and rock ‘n’ roll. In a word, it swings, and Barry can’t stop smiling as he does too.
It’s as if God’s given Barry an extra measure of joy, and he can’t help but share it. That’s the great thing about Barry; dancing is only one of his many talents. He sings, he models, he tells jokes, and even rides a unicycle. He’s not your average mechanic. “What I do is the man’s job. A lot of guys wish they were in the garage,” says Barry. “[But] I went to my twentieth class reunion and danced with all the girls.”
At the end of the month, Barry will be joining a host of other swing dancers at the Third Annual Southern Fried Swing, a weekend of swing dance classes and dances. This year’s event will be held at Second Street Live in Fort Smith and Momentum Dance Concepts in Van Buren and will feature live jazz music by Tulsa’s Rebecca Ungerman. Barry will be the event’s emcee. “It’ll be a fun time. People show up with a smile on their face,” Barry says, as he disappears beneath the hood of the mini-van, the toe of his boot still keeping beat with the music.
For event information, visit southernfriedswing.com.