Monday, November 23, 2009

Dancing With The Dedham Stars


Six prominent residents to strut their stuff, and all for a good cause - boosting the local schools
By Michele Morgan Bolton, Globe Correspondent November 22, 2009

Selectman Jim MacDonald is known for his careful and conservative approach to issues and, in his own words, is something of a stiff.
So the 2-minute, 20-second routine he’s rehearsing to perform, in costume, with a partner, in front of practically the whole town, is a leap outside his comfort zone. To say the least.

“I said, ‘I don’t dance,’ ’’ the six-term selectman stressed as he recounted a chat with Dimitria Sullivan, president of the Dedham Educational Partnership, the nonprofit that’s sponsoring the second annual “Dancing With the Dedham Stars.’’

“She said, ‘That’s OK.’ And I said, ‘No. You don’t understand. I really don’t dance.’ ’’

But after several months of ballroom dancing lessons and countless rehearsals, MacDonald and five other prominent Dedham residents will take to the floor at Moseley’s and trip the light fantastic on Dec. 5 to raise money for the partnership.

“It’s so out of character for people who know me,’’ said MacDonald, who is a lawyer. “I am a strait-laced and by-the-books kind of guy. My wife has been trying to get me to dance for 30 years.’’

For such a regimented soul, MacDonald is coming around and learning to let down his guard. When he first met with dance partner Taylor Gough, he had some difficulty unwinding. But the rhythm soon started to take over.
“It’s really about getting the steps, getting the moves,’’ he said. “Well, I just do what she tells me to do.’’

Last year’s event, which raised $18,000 for the group for a variety of initiatives at the public schools, was so popular that tickets to this year’s version sold out in a week. The names on the dance card were chosen by a four-person DEP committee that put together a large list of potential dancers from all over town.

“Basically, they were who we thought would bring people in,’’ Sullivan said. “And we wanted it to be as inclusive of as many groups as there are.’’
Some weight went to the bucketload of e-mails that poured in after last year’s show from people who said they’d love to be picked.

But the final lineup has come down to: MacDonald; Dedham High School nurse Maria Antonuccio; Oakdale School principal Holli Armstrong; former Dedham police officer and school resource officer Richard Huyler; Jen Polito of the Dedham Housing Authority; and former Department of Public Works director Archie DeVirgilio.

Gough attended the show last year because her father was one of the judges, and a few friends were in the group dance at the start of the show. She started dancing at Paulette’s Ballet Studio in Newton at age 3 and joined the teaching faculty part time in 2000. The rest of the time, Gough is a cardiac nurse at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

“When Dimitria asked me about working with Jim, I was thrilled,’’ Gough said. “I really am glad I didn’t partner with anyone else. He’s catching on great and taking it all in stride.’’

Gough said MacDonald’s nerves were obvious at first. “But he’s been gaining confidence and is starting to seem comfortable with choreography. We’re both just looking to have a good time with this fund-raiser and are definitely looking forward to showing what we got.’’

Dancers are required to keep the particular style of dance they choose secret until the big night. So while MacDonald would not go on the record with his pick, he did offer this: “Taylor originally told me I seemed like a disco type of guy.’’

He laughed deeply: “Uhh . . . no.’’

Whatever happens on Dec. 5, what will probably go down in the memory books this year is Armstrong’s reaction when she learned she had been picked.

In a video posted by committee members to publicize the event, Armstrong is chatting on the phone at her desk when the committee materializes in front of her, carrying balloons like the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Prize Patrol.

Once she realizes what is happening, Armstrong lets loose a high-pitched scream and drops the phone.

On the other end was fellow principal Clare Sullivan of the Avery School.
Armstrong quickly remembers with whom she was speaking and grabs the phone back. Later the video shows her offering some dance moves in her office. A natural at performing, Armstrong also teaches a musical theater class after school. She said she was so taken with last year’s Dancing with the Dedham Stars performance that she “joked’’ with others about how she’d better be picked this year.

“I’m a little competitive,’’ she admitted. “I keep telling everyone I’m in it to win it. But I know it’s all about the kids.’’

Armstrong has been practicing with partner Martin Rycroft at the Fred Astaire Studio in Norwood two to three times a week. And while she said she doesn’t generally get nervous when she performs, “On the 5th? I think I may feel a little nauseous.’’

Sullivan said what made last year’s event so worthwhile, besides the generous proceeds, was the standing ovation at the end. That’s DEP’s goal, she said, to bring schools and the community together.
“The crowd just exploded,’’ she said. “And the dancers realized what they can do. That’s the beauty of the whole thing.’’

Although tickets have sold out, donations can be sent to the Dedham Educational Partnership at 100 Whiting Ave., Dedham, MA 02026. More information is available at Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at

No comments: