Dance competition aids education, symphony
By Steve Palisin
"Annnnd one," he would say, counting off to start some box steps as part of the waltz they will dance Saturday evening during the third annual "Horry County Dancing With the Stars."
The fundraiser, at Grande Dunes Marina Inn in Myrtle Beach, helps the Business/Education Expectations (BE2) Partnership/Early College High School, based at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in Conway, and the Long Bay Symphony of Myrtle Beach. It's modeled after the No. 1-rated TV show on ABC, which has two weeks to go this season.
Practicing with Gonzalez at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio he owns in Myrtle Beach, McGrail said they have been at work perfecting their performance piece by piece since August.
"I found out I have all this energy," said McGrail, "energy I didn't know I have."
The Longs resident teaches Zumba exercise classes and enjoys assisting area fundraisers with organizations such as the Long Bay Symphony Guild, of which she is a member. She said she took the baton handoff for this event from Charles Jones Evans, Long Bay's music director/conductor.
"I volunteered," she said, noting Evans danced among the "stars" last fall.
Gonzalez, a Loris resident, cracked his knuckles after adjusting his tie for the rehearsal with McGrail.
"To me, this is fun," he said.
His patience and constant reassurance as they worked on smoothing out some portions in their routine kept McGrail smiling almost the whole time.
"I'll let you go," he said, "but we'll cut this way. ... Annnnd good."
Anytime McGrail felt unsure about a sequence, she would sound it out as Gonzalez held her arms.
"Step, step, stop," McGrail said.
Gonzalez also made sure McGrail knew which way to face during their dance. Pointing to the mirrored walls in front and back of them, and to the studio door and front windows, he said the audience might be seated in tables, "this way, this way and this way." However, if the stage surroundings differ, he wanted to make sure they would not lose their orientation during their big dance.
"You're going to be fine now, OK?" Gonzalez told McGrail, who replied with a hug.
'Having to pace myself'
Another participant in "Dancing With the Horry County Stars," Melvin Fields of North Myrtle Beach spoke about his partnership with professional Debra Hughes.
"We spend a lot of time on the dance floor," he said of work begun in August. "A lot more time than I thought it would be."
Fields said he always has enjoyed dancing but had never done it within a pair.
In this home stretch for the past week or so, Fields said they work out several times a week in North Myrtle Beach, and he spends "at least an hour a day" doing steps on his own.
"I got a lot of lifts in my routine," he said. "I'm having to pace myself ... doing the finite things such as hand positions."
With a son in 11th grade in the Early College High School, Fields said he's happy to devote himself to dance for this charity, which since 2006 has motivated average-scoring, underachieving and well-prepared high schoolers for success in college.
Fields' dance counterpart, Hughes, has taught the art for 30 years.
"It's just encouraging and nice to see people getting back into the ballroom," she said, "and knowing that ballroom doesn't mean old."
Hughes said ballroom dancing tackles many different steps, such as the rumba, jive and cha-cha-cha.
"'Dancing With the Stars,' she said, complimenting the TV show, in its 11th season, "has helped that a lot. You can do it with all different types of music. It's not just for older people anymore."
After each session with a student, Hughes sees the benefits on the faces of her students.
"It brings joy, togetherness for people, great self-esteem and a sense of self-accomplishment," she said.
Hughes said she started out in telephone sales at a dance studio.
"I was looking through the window," she said, "and thinking, 'You know, I bet I can do that.'"
After studying ballet and jazz for 12 years, Hughes realized she had a gift for ballroom dancing and choreography, and went on to own her own studio in Colorado for 12 years.
Giving lessons, Hughes takes pleasure in developing a relationship with each student.
"It's a great bond," she said. "You grow together, like a family."
Helping a charity event only adds to the incentive to deliver on the floor, Hughes said, "to know I'm doing great work and helping in the community."
Marsha Griffin is the coordinator for "Dancing With the Horry County Stars" and a consultant for the Early College High School.
"This community is coming together for this event," she said. "It just surprises me every day what everybody does."
She and David Bernardo, who has helped expand the marketing of the event, said for people who cannot attend but want to help the school and symphony, voting for a star is easy anytime at www.horrydancing.org. Votes are purchased for a $10 donation. Griffin hopes the event's total can match or exceed the total raised last year, $109,000.
"Everybody in this county can have a part in this event," Griffin said. "The dollars really add up."
Back at Fred Astaire, McGrail commended Gonzalez for doing double duty for the big dance. He also will share the stage with Dode Washington, an obstetrician/gynecologist in Myrtle Beach.
"I'm sharing him with another woman," McGrail said. "Not only his wife, but another lady."