Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dancing With The Dedham Stars 2008

By Tim Brooks

In September 2008, I took over the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Norwood. The previous owner explained to me that the studio had committed to training four local ‘celebrities’ over a series of weeks which would culminate in a performance at Moseley’s on the Charles in Dedham on November 14th.

I was nervous about meeting my student, wondering “Would we have chemistry?”, “What will her preferred dance style be?”, “Had she danced before?” and more importantly “Will she understand my accent?” In my first meeting with Nancy Baker, I saw this quiet, shy lady. Her first words to me were “Well, I can forget about wearing high heels” and so began our fun journey together to prepare our number.

It soon became apparent to me that the other ‘stars’ were doing a great job. Jimmy Munchbach, John Murray and Denise Connell all had music in mind and a ‘theme’ for their Showdance. The instructors at our Fred Astaire Dance Studio, Meaghan McHale, Lisa Sewell and Brad Adcock, were all excited about the initial phase of getting to know their partners more and keen to develop their dancing skills.

Over the course of the next few months, I saw the change in all the students. Their initial suspicion about their ability to dance and the sanity of their decision to commit to the competition all receded as they started to enjoy the many benefits of dancing. I heard stories about weight loss, increased confidence, better posture, health benefits and even my favorite: “I got this afternoon off work by telling my boss I am dancing in front of 700 people and I need a dance lesson NOW.”

Ideas for costumes were drafted, scrapped, re-drafted and tried out before we heard classic comments like “I am not wearing this in front of 700 people,” “I need cowboy boots,” and “I have ordered four dresses, I told my husband, don’t worry I can send them back…”

During this time, a bond between the celebrities and instructors formed, hopes, fears and aspirations were shared, and even devious plans to sabotage the opposition were discussed. J Ultimately, a very unique environment was created in which everyone encouraged and assisted everyone to give the best performance they could achieve. All the while, we were being reminded that it’s for the kids.

As word was getting around about the event, more tickets were being sold and time was flying by. We had met the other celebrities Paul McMurtry and Mayanne Briggs and choreographed a group finale to a combination of “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge and “You’re The One I Want” from the Grease soundtrack. It was important that we got the message across to the audience that this was a competition but everyone was good friends and was doing the event to help raise money for the Dedham Educational Partnership (DEP).

I personally have been involved with many fundraisers and dance events but I was in awe of the eye for detail, thoroughness and concern that Dimitria Sullivan, President of the DEP, showed in organizing an event of this magnitude. We kept up a constant dialogue of how the planning was progressing, changes were communicated, and a schedule was drafted to ensure the evening ran without any problems.

So, just three days before the event, we all descended to Moseley’s for our dress rehearsal, which gave us an opportunity to test the floor, take in the surroundings, and make last minute adjustments to our routines to ensure the stars performed to their maximum. Absolute secrecy was a must. The couples were ushered in and out to rehearse in order to keep their themes and outfits a surprise from the other competitors. Reality hit some of the stars when they realized this event, which had been in the back of their mind for the previous three months, was now upon us and I am sure last minute lessons were arranged due to the fear factor.

The night itself soon came around and I was shocked to see so many cars and people converging on Moseley’s when I arrived early and attempted to park. All the stars were thinking the same thing – “This thing is huge” – and there was a special buzz around the room in anticipation about the night’s events. Who would be crowned champion? Would Jimmy keep his clothes on? Would John’s students vote for him? Had Denise bought every copy of the Dedham Times which had a full page advertisement of her superimposed onto a ballerina’s body (sorry Denise to shatter the myth) on the back page wishing her luck?

Assistance was given in doing hair and make-up, last minute rehearsals were done, music located and the final photo shoot done by TSS Photography to capture the moment.
The judging panel consisted of Donna Baressi, Henri E. Gough, Peter A. Zahka and Sheriff Michael Bellotti.

The unmistakable voice of Billy Idol blared out, “Do You Want to Dance?” and upon his request, a collection of females from Dedham performed the amazing routine that had been choreographed and rehearsed at Fred Astaire. The splendid sight of these 18 ladies in total synchronization to the classic ‘Mony Mony’ was a great prelude to the celebrities who were now ready to perform.

Up first was Mayanne Briggs and her instructor Jim Spellman who had wonderful matching outfits and performed Swing to a medley of songs from the movie Dirty Dancing. Their performance was well received by the audience and the judges gave them positive feedback.

Next, to an amalgamation of music, came John Murray and his instructor Lisa Sewell who had a cowboy/girl theme for their performance of ‘Honky Tonk.’ John went above and beyond for the cause and had actually grown a beard for the event. Ladies always complain about all the time and effort that goes into preparing for the event; well, John spent two weeks perfecting his “look.” Due to a clever use of music and exciting choreography, John and Lisa entertained the crowd; John showed his comfort with the choreography and exhibited his showmanship. The judges gave some amusing comments about the content and agreed what a great performance it had been.

Entering the ballroom next was Denise Connell with her instructor Brad Adcock. Brad must have been a little confused as there were many tributes to Denise including life size cut outs of her head which had been placed on sticks by her many supporters. Undeterred by this, they went on to perform to the Michael Buble classic “Save The Last Dance For Me” and did a combination of Rumba and Cha-Cha. This was a really interesting mix of sexy and sensual movements, combined with fast paced rhythm and Denise performed it very well to the delight of her fans. The judges commented on the complexity of the routine and were very appreciative of her performance.

Fourth to perform was Paul McMurtry with his instructor Barbi Calusdian who delighted the crowd with the intro to the Saturday Night Fever anthem coupled with a fantastic choice of outfit by Paul. Some difficult “tricks” were combined with some fun elements in what was very entertaining, and I am sure the whole of Dedham were surprised by Paul’s alternate ego. It was a confident, assured performance. The judges were appreciative of it and a comment was passed on about the theme in a light hearted way. Claims of him stealing the outfit from one of the judge’s wardrobe were unfounded. J

Fifth was Dedham’s Assistant Town Administrator, Nancy Baker. I was her partner. To the Christina Aguilera hit “Candyman,” we performed our Swing style routine that we had spent time perfecting. Nancy and I had opted to go with a Sailor theme; that was how I ended up in a sailor hat and collar and Nancy wore a beautiful Navy dress that fit the era. Early worries about the floor being slippery underfoot were soon forgotten as Nancy executed our routine with style and confidence.

I would just like to mention the amazing atmosphere and support that ALL the spectators showed for all of the performers. This was an incredible help to them, and I just kept hearing excited feedback after people performed of what a great experience it had been to perform in front of so many people.

Anyway back to Nancy, the judges agreed in their appraisal of her performance citing the complexity of the routine and that Nancy can do ANYTHING after this performance. I was delighted with how we did and was eagerly anticipating the results.

Before we could get the results there was one performance left. After having the privilege of seeing Jimmy Munchbach’s routine up close, I knew it would be a strong performance. With his instructor Meaghan McHale they opened their performance with a beautiful English Waltz which was met with shock by the audience who were surprised with Jimmy’s grace and elegance or maybe they were just amused by his choice of outfit which consisted of his Court Officer Uniform modified slightly so it could be removed as his music changed to the upbeat N.E.R.D. number. Gasps from the audience were audible as Jimmy revealed his physique, gyrated his hips, and performed some difficult but very rhythmical moves. The judges were impressed with the costume change and raunchy moves.

Upon my return to the dressing room, the atmosphere had changed; it was much more relaxed. A collective sigh of relief was heard. All the stars were excited and happy with their performance and in agreement on how quickly the performance had gone by.

As the votes were being cast, there was a professional demonstration from the Fred Astaire Dancers. The professional partners of Brad (Mira) and Tim (Mila) had travelled all the way from Connecticut to help with the performances. Seven exciting shows followed demonstrating the Viennese Waltz, Rumba, Tango, Showdance Numbers, Quickstep, Hip Hop and a Jive.
Immediately following this was the All Star Finale, featuring all the celebrities who had small solo numbers choreographed in the middle to please their fan base.

And so to the results:

As in the hit ABC show Dancing With The Stars, the audience also votes so there were two results – Most popular with the Audience and the Judges Marks.

In both cases the winner was Nancy Baker partnered by myself and trained in the Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Norwood. I would like to congratulate Nancy on her performance that evening and all the progress she made. In addition, I am sure all the other participants were very close in taking the title as they all performed magnificently and must have given the judges an extremely difficult task to decide a winner.

Finally, I’d like to give a huge thank you to everyone who contributed to the organization and participation in the evening which was a HUGE success. We raised a substantial amount of money for the DEP that will be used to positively influence the education system in the Dedham schools.

1 comment:

munch said...

Well said Tim. Thank you for donating the time of your instructors to help raise money for the Dedham schools. If anyone wants to take Dance Lessons I highly recommend Fads of Norwwood and ask for my favorite dancer Meaghan although Lisa, Brad and Tim are also excellant teachers.