Enjoy an evening of glitz, glamour and fun as newbie ballroom dancers twirl the night away.
STORY: James Combs PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: Anthony Casto
Sheri Olson has faithfully watched each season of “Dancing with the Stars.” She even converted her husband, Don, into a fan.
“The show is great because people who have never done ballroom dancing stretch well beyond their comfort zone and participate in something challenging,” she says. “They also display their ballroom dance skills in front of a national audience. It’s a very glamorous and fun show to watch.”
Sheri, director of the South Lake Hospital Foundation, will soon display some fancy footwork of her own. Stepping Out for Education, modeled after the popular television series, will allow Sheri and five other local celebrities to showcase their ballroom dance skills and raise money for the Education Foundation of Lake County.
The event will be held July 26 at Lake Receptions in Mount Dora from 6 to 11p.m. Proceeds benefit teachers and students in Lake County’s public schools.
“It’s exciting to see local people put themselves in the limelight for a good cause,” says Carman Cullen, executive director of the Education Foundation of Lake County. “It is a very elegant evening — the dancers even wear $10,000 ballroom dance costumes that we rent.”
Putting their best foot forward
During Stepping Out for Education, each local celebrity will be paired with a professional ballroom dancer. The partners will complete both a rhythm and smooth dance routine, each lasting two minutes. A group of professional judges will determine the top male and top female dancers based on creativity and skill, while the audience will vote for the top overall performer, who’ll walk away with the coveted mirror ball trophy.
Here’s the twist.
“One of the criteria we use in selecting local celebrities is they cannot have any previous ballroom dancing experience,” Carman says. “We do this to make the competition fair.”
So while the pressure may not be as intense as “Dancing with the Stars,” the process of turning ordinary people into trained dancers keeps teachers and students on their toes. Each celebrity receives 20 hours of instruction with their professional dance partner prior to the event. Sheri trains once a week at the Crystal Ballroom in Casselberry with Romney Reyes, a world champion ballroom dancer. The duo plan to dazzle the crowd when they perform the cha-cha to “Love Never Felt so Good.”
“Being a participant in ballroom dancing is a lot different than watching it,” Sheri says. “The dancers make it look so easy on television, but when I’m practicing I sometimes wonder whether my body will move that fast.”
For Sheri, becoming versed in proper form and routines has been challenging.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m doing everything right and then I’ll turn in the wrong direction,” she says. “However, learning ballroom dance has been a blast and I’m fortunate to have a great partner. I trust him completely when he lifts me in the air, and I know he’ll keep me safe.”
Despite the learning curve, Sheri is ready and eager to dance.
“I find myself at work walking down the hallway and practicing the routine by performing the steps and saying, ‘1, 2 … cha cha cha,’” she says. “I’ve warned my co-workers that I’m not crazy.”
Even after hours of practice, it’s normal for celebrities to feel a wide range of emotions on the night of the event.
“They are nervous and excited at the same time,” Carman says. “However, when the night is over, every celebrity has come up to me and said this was one of the most exciting things they’ve ever done.”
Participants also enjoy health benefits. Just ask Brad Weber, a Stepping Out for Education celebrity ballroom dancer from 2011 who lost 58 pounds.
“I was out of shape, so I started going to the gym three months before training with a dance instructor,” says Brad, senior vice president of Citizens First Bank. “My blood pressure and blood-sugar level improved dramatically. Today, I dance competitively with my wife, Glenda, and enjoy both the athletic and artistic sides of ballroom dancing.”
Have a ball
In addition to a magical evening of dancing, guests are treated to a seven-course dinner. This year’s safari theme will feature a backdrop with palm fronds, canopies and special lighting.
Tickets cost $125 per person or $150 for preferred seating. Seating is limited to 400 people. For more information or to purchase tickets, call the Education Foundation of Lake County at 352.326.1265.
In addition to Sheri, the other local celebrities include:
Heath Nailos, an attorney with Boyetee, Cummins & Nailos
Bobby Rhodes, president of Eco Construction Group
Freddy Williams, chief executive officer of Boys and Girls Club of Lake and Sumter Counties
Sandi Moore, executive director of the Leesburg Area Chamber of Commerce
Dr. Melissa DeJarlais, principal of Fruitland Park Elementary