Report on “Dancing With The Stars” Fundraiser

Originally appeared on Beckley Online….

Half a million dollars in an ambitious fundraising goal for a regionally focused non-profit organization, but the United Way of Southern West Virginia got off to a stellar start on Friday night when they held what will hopefully be their first annual “Dancing With The Stars” fundraiser.  At $75 a ticket, admission wasn’t cheap. However, the spirit of charity and the entertainment promise of a version of the ABC reality show featuring prominent members of the community instead of former NFL players re-purposing linebacker thwarting agility, celebrities fighting obscurity and political progeny riding questionably-earned fame proved more appealing than expected.  Over 600 people attended, tripling the organization’s original attendance goal of 200.


The show followed the TV version very closely.  Five couples competed, each spent approximately 2 months training 2-3 times a week with a Choreographer/Coach.  Each couple was introduced with a video that featured interviews, gentle ribbing directed at their “rivals”, and some footage of them in rehearsal.  There were 3 judges who gave scores, all of whom were experienced

chdance or fitness professionals.  The fourth judge was West Virginia native Monte Durham, best known as the star of TLC’s “Say Yes To The Dress.”  Though not a dance professional, Monte’s colorful jokes and sly comedic timing both added a unique flavor to the event and delighted the audience.


Barbara Yurick, who both owns and instructs at Oak Hill Dance Center, coached and choreographed for one of the five couples.  Megan Constantino, a residency program coordinator with AccessHealth, and Richard Jarrell, owner of both Beckley Chick-fil-A franchises, took classes from Mrs. Yurick 2 or 3 times a week for six weeks.  “They both really went for it… The both gave 100%.”, she says of their work ethic.  The commitment needed to get in shape and learn a dance was echoed by Courtney Clark, an anchor for CBS 59 News, who danced the Foxtrot with former school superintendent Bill Baker,  “The most challenging part was finding the time to practice.” she told Beckley Online in an interview.


In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll add that Barbara Yurick is my Mom, so if I have some biases, I apologize in advance.  I really appreciate being invited to the event and it was a fun thing to write about.  There’s no shortage of violence and greed to rail against right now  so it’s nice have an opportunity to write at length about something that worked because of charity and cooperation.


An amateur jazz band plays as we walk the red carpet through the maw of the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center’s service entrance.  People seem to have mostly taken the occasion to dress up seriously without overshooting into stuffiness or pushing glamor past the point of good taste.  We go in and get our tickets.  The inside of the Convention Center is also looking it’s best.  Black fabric collars the rows of stadium seating, hung high enough and concealing enough rows that the ambiance of the room tilts closer to an incredibly level theater instead of a basketball arena. Cardboard stars covered in silver glitter hang and twist in the currents of the air conditioning.  Translucent fabric runs to the shrouded scoreboard.  The stage is on the end of the floor opposite the entrance and the audience is seated in groups of 8-10 at each round table.


There are screens with digital projectors on either side and cameramen covering the stage.  I’m glad that they’re there because the stage is relatively short and we’re all the way to the right (That’s house right, if you’re a theater person).  This means that we can’t really see anyone from the waist down or, depending on the crowd in front of us, at all.  Fortunately, we’re right at the foot of one of the screens.  The upside is it gives us a decent view of what’s going on.  The downside is we’re at a unique event and we’re still watching it on TV like we would if it were happening in a studio in New York or Los Angeles.


If you’re rooting for a contestant or couple, you can buy a picture of their face that’s been glued to a silver spraypainted paint stirrer for $5.  If you can’t picture it, It looks like a fan or a paddle with a face on it and it’s one of my favorite cheering implements in the history of human competition.  It echoes both the civility of an auction and the lore of cannibalism.  It’s cheering, but it also seems threatening.  “Do good… or else!”  Either that or it’s just a way to demonstrate one’s allegiance in a situation that’s (rightly) unfriendly to homemade t-shirts.


Introductions are made and the first couple goes on.  It’s the pair my Mom worked with and they do an explosive Freestyle Cha Cha to “Danger Zone” from “Top Gun” that actually includes an airplane-esque lift and ends with the dancers on a motorcycle.  The judges like it: 9-8-9.


The next twosome waltzes to “My Heart Will Go On”, also known as “That ‘Titantic’ Song, The Celine Dion One”.  Decent score.  The third couple does the Regular Cha Cha and gets a “10” from one of the judges.  No one embarrasses themselves.  In fact, the prevailing sentiment in the introductory videos that each couple did is a sense of accomplishment.  None of the competitors was an experienced dancer before they started training for this event.  However, nearly all of them talked about how quickly things that seemed impossible became attainable and how quickly those things became doable.


However, the competition aspect of the event is understated, manifesting in intramural ribbing and cheering sections waving uniform bouquets of heads.  However nominal the competition aspect is, it remains important.  For $5, you can buy a vote for the People’s Choice Award.  However, this “corruption” of the democratic integrity of tv show-derived fundraiser competitions is justified.  Fans of a particular couple trying to outvote each other are, in exactly equal measure, trying to out-donate each other.


The United Way’s Executive Director, Margaret Ann O’Neal, reminds us of how important those donations are during intermission.  She tells the crowd about how, during the chaotic days that went into getting tonight’s event set up, the organization heard from a local woman whose husband was dying of cancer at a hospital 3 hours away and the woman couldn’t afford gas to take her kids to see him.  The United Way was able to not only help her afford the trip, but was also able to coordinate with the hospital and other organizations to take care of food and accommodations for the mother and her children.  It’s a sobering moment, as I sit there with my family, slightly more than full of philly cheesteak toothpick kebabs, barbecue chicken and fried green tomato sliders.  We have a lot to be thankful for, and that gratitude has to carry over.


Eventually, intermission ended bringing up the last two dancers.

Courtney Clark had this to say about going fourth, “I was a nervous wreck, especially having to wait until after intermission. But once you receive that first round of applause, the jitters start to go away and adrenaline takes over. It was a blast!”  She and her partner did a nimble fox trot, bringing up the final couple.

Kenette Coffman and Victor Flanagan went for broke with a Michael Jackson medley that, despite being technically uneven, was carried off with enough panache and daring energy to net the couple a perfect score and thunderous applause.


As votes were being tabulated for the People’s Choice awards, owner of Dance Theater School, and coach/choreographer for the third couple, Jerry Rose gave a monologue about how the impulse to move and to dance is tied to the beat of our hearts, to time itself.  This made me think about the accumulation of hours that went into this project and how big a collective effort that represents from the dancers, coaches and everyone who helped organize the event itself.


One of the judges, Kristen Pennington, closed with a thrilling dance to “As Long As You Ae Mine” from the Broadway musical “Wicked”.  While the contestants did well, watching a professional executing a piece with such agility and precision was still a highlight.  Finally, the votes were tabulated and it was time to announce the winners.  With their explosive moves and perfect score, Victor Flanagan and Kenette Coffman won both People’s Choice and Judge’s Choice.  Jeff Miller and Mendy Harvey, the third couple, won second in both categories.


The total raised for the events was REDACTED, which puts a significant dent in the organization’s half million goal.  Mrs. Clark put it well when she had this to say of her experience, “My favorite part of the evening was hearing just how well the fundraiser did for the cause. It was truly an honor to be part of such a great event that will go so far in helping the communities the United Way of Southern West Virginia serves.”


Paul Almond of Beckley Online contributed the interview with Courtney Clark to this piece.