Dancing With the Stars Sandhills Style
Make way for the Sandhills Stars! Twenty-one couples, drawn from the area's community leaders, are polishing up their footwork to compete for a very good cause in the hottest dance extravaganza ever to be held in Moore County.
It's a contest unlike any other. The event, to be held Saturday, Jan. 9, at Pine Needles Hospitality Center, features cocktails, dinner and high-stepping entertainment.
However, because the winners will be chosen by the total number of votes they can gather from friends, family, business and professional associates, or complete strangers, co-chair Jackie Garris has dubbed the occasion, "the only competition that really can be won by buying votes."
The best part of the voting scheme is that it is open to everyone -- whether residents of Moore County, or from any other place in the United States or abroad. All it costs is $10 per vote, and voting is going on right now. Votes can be given to a couple in person or cast by mail, or by accessing the Sandhills Stars Web site any time up to and including the night of the event, when after each couple's performance on the dance floor, audience members will be asked to vote on the spot for the couple of their choice with a donation.
The event centers on raising funds and awareness for the mentoring programs sponsored by Communities in Schools and Moore Buddies, both local nonprofit United Way agencies.
These programs are aimed at young people who are in need of extra help to succeed in school. According to Christine Connelly, executive director of Moore Buddies, experts agree that mentoring is a critical element in any child's social, emotional and cognitive development.
"Without a doubt, young people who have the benefit of caring adult mentors navigate the path to adulthood more successfully," she says.
Andi Korte, executive director of Communities in Schools, points out that by bringing adults into the schools to address children's unmet needs, CIS provides the link between educators and the community.
"The result: Teachers are free to teach, and students, many of whom are in jeopardy of dropping out, have the opportunity to focus on learning," she says.
The idea for transforming the national television spectacular "Dancing With the Stars" into a local fundraiser didn't originate with Jackie Garris.
"The concept came to the Sandhills from Clinton. Holly Floyd, chairman of the board of Moore Buddies, heard through the grapevine what a tremendous fundraising success the Clinton Stars had achieved, and she enlisted me and Mimi Beatty to co-chair a similar event here," Garris says.
Outlining the duties of the 15-person organizing committee, Garris mentions that Mimi Beatty contributes a good business overview to the project, while Lesley Berkshire Bradley has brought important marketing skills to the group. Susan Bristow, who produced the Clinton event, is acting in an advisory capacity with Jane Jackson, who calls herself a "semi-professional dancer and entertainer," being the liaison with the dancers.
"And I am a people person, who doesn't mind asking for sponsorships or any type of in-kind assistance," Garris says.
Among the couples who have good-naturedly agreed to participate in the event are local radio personalities Kristen Palmer and Rich Rushforth; Chamber of Commerce President Patrick Coughlin, whose partner is Patty Zoellner; District Attorney Maureen Kruger and Southern Pines Chief of Police John Letteney; Superintendent of Schools Dr. Susan Purser, who is partnered with Sen. Harris Blake; George and Wanda Little; and Southern Pines Mayor Mike Haney, dancing with Linda Pearson.
All of the dancers, with few exceptions, are stepping out of their normal element to participate in the competition.
"It's truly a dramatic departure from what they do every day," says Lesley Bradley.
Susan Bristow provided a range of 90-second CDs to give the couples an idea of what type of dance they wanted to do. They chose from shag, waltz, jive, rock 'n' roll, Latin, foxtrot and the like, and then the practice sessions got under way. The dancers have had the opportunity to receive group instruction on several occasions from the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Pinehurst, and also had the option of taking five private lessons given by studio owner Debbie Hasson.
The culmination of all that coaching and rehearsal time will be on impressive display at the Jan. 9 event. Master of Ceremonies Jim Dodson, editor of PineStraw magazine, will be assisted by three impartial and objective judges. Grady Little, of baseball fame, John Dempsey, president of Sandhills Community College, and Steve Bouser, editor of The Pilot, are -- rumor has it --- are already saving up their most clever and witty comments for the occasion
Dodson will announce each pair of contestants in turn, to be followed by a showing of an introductory video clip of the couple. Then after their 90-second performance, Dodson will ask for a vote of audience approval, which can be given by holding up paddles provided at each table, and runners will gather the votes before the show continues.
At the conclusion of the performances, while the votes are being tallied, committee member Jane Jackson will make a cameo appearance, singing a couple of numbers, and giving a a dance exhibition, partnered by George Trail, urbane former member of the diplomatic corps and part-time Pinehurst resident. Jackson has delighted local audiences with her one-woman shows, and has performed at many events for nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.
Cast a Vote
The organizers stress that now is the time to cast a preliminary ballot for the couple(s) of your choice. Here is a complete list of contestants:
Kristen Palmer and Rich Rushforth; Patrick Coughlin and Patty Zoellner; Maureen Krueger and John Letteney; Bob Adams and Sherry Wood; Linda Pearson and Mike Haney; Diana Turner-Forte and Stephen Later; Eve Avery and Jim Byrd; Jeff and Severine Hutchins; Jack Nance and Roxanne Leopper; Father John and Julie Tampa; Susie Leader and Nelson Neil; Ellen Pearsall and Charlie Jackson; George and Wanda Little; Janeen Driscoll and Paul Harkness; Dr. Susan Purser and Sen. Harris Blake; Dr. Jefferson Kilpatrick and Juliet Eden Blanks; Larry and Cathy Hinton; Patrick McGowan and Cathy Smith; Ray Metzger and Karen Backall; Baxter and Taylor Clement; and Laura Creed and Bob Lowery.
Those who wish to vote may do so by enclosing a vote donation of $10 per couple in an envelope together with the names of the couple(s) they wish to vote for and mailing it to P. O. Box 223, Pinehurst, NC 28374, or vote on the Web site at www.sandhillsstars.com and pay online. The Web site also has brief biographies on each contestant, and there's a link to view the video clips of each couple.
Tickets for the Jan. 9 event are $125 per person or $1,250 for a table for 10 people. Contact Communities in Schools at (910) 295-1072, or Moore Buddies at (910) 400-5236 for more information or to reserve tickets or a table.
"While some of us don't have the $125 to attend the gala dinner and show, most of us can afford a $10 vote," says Lesley Bradley, "so we're hoping loads of Sandhills residents and friends and family in far off places will want to cast their votes and support the at-risk youth of Moore County."
Contact Pinehurst freelance writer Mary Elle Hunter at email@example.com.
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