By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian
“Marion County’s Own Dancing with the Stars” fundraiser was a great success, Tina Shaw, president of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce, said.
“I think it was fabulous,” Shaw said. “It exceeded my expectations. We’re really excited, and I know that next year is going to be bigger and better!”
The event was held Saturday at Colebank Hall at Fairmont State. It helped raise money for the nonprofit Marion County Chamber of Commerce (MCCC) and the United Way of Marion County (UWMC), and featured 10 members of the Marion County community, dancing in couples in a “Dancing with the Stars”-style competition.
The 10 residents were paired up at random in May. The star couples were Mary Jo Thomas and George Levitsky, Heather Fitzwater and Jerrod Calhoun, Dixie Yann and Bill Holmes, Christy Miller and Jonathan Rider, and Sharon Swearingen and Chuck Jessup. Their choreographers were Eileen Frank, Gabe Akers, Teresa Sestito, Arthur Frank and Olivia Bowen, respectively.
Couples could win first and second place in two categories: people’s choice and judge’s choice.
People’s choice was determined by votes made by the public before and during the event. People could vote for their favorite dancing couple before the event by going online on the Dancing with the Stars event site for $5 a vote. Attendees also placed votes at the event by buying $5 “face fans,” covered on both sides with their favorite dancer’s face.
But to get the judge’s choice awards, dancers had to work
hard to perfect their dance routines and impress the judges. The three judges were Kaitlin Gates, former Miss West Virginia and Miss West Virginia’s Outstanding Teen; Major Harris, college football Hall of Famer and former West Virginia University quarterback; and Holly C. Kauffman, president of West Virginia Operations for FirstEnergy.
The event started with a social hour and refreshments at 6 p.m., and the dance competition began at 7 p.m. The couples picked numbers to decide who would go first. Before each couple danced, a reality-show-style interview video was shown for each dancer, where they answered questions on their dancing abilities, dancing style and how well they thought they would do in the event.
Mary Jo Thomas and George Levitsky were the first dancing couple. They came out in full Ghostbusters gear, complete with yellow jumpsuits with the Ghostbusters’ logo on the right sleeve, “proton pack” backpacks for ghost hunting, lazer guns and ghosts, which decorated the stage. Appropriately, they danced to the Ghostbusters theme song.
The second couple, Heather Fitzwater and Jerrod Calhoun, were elegant in a sparkling black dress and a black tie and pants. The couple danced to Eric Church’s “Springsteen.” Calhoun said the couple, who had little dance experience before the event, practiced every day for two months.
“I preach to my guys that you have to practice to get good,” Calhoun, Fairmont State’s men’s basketball coach, said.
Dixie Yann and Bill Holmes danced third. Yann came out dramatically, dressed head-to-toe in a red and black flapper dress, with a red headband with red and black feathers in her hair. Holmes was dressed to match in a black suit, red vest and tie, and black shoes, complete with spats. They danced to “I Wanna Be Loved by You” by Marilyn Monroe. They ended with a flourish, as Holmes threw coins at Yann’s feet, and she crushed them with her heels.
Christy Miller and Jonathan Rider decided to go Western, with Miller in a “saloon style” red and black dress ensemble, and Rider in a black cowboy hat, black button-up shirt and brown pants. They danced to a “Paso Doble” Spanish style dance (imagine bullfighter music and castanets). Miller said their dance was all about “having fun.”
Finally, Sharon Swearingen and Chuck Jessup, Times West Virginian publisher, brought the glitter, with Swearingen in a black shirt and black dress pants with sparkles running down the side, and Jessup in a shiny silver shirt, a blond Afro wig, yellow sunglasses and a gold chain necklace. Their dance started out slow, but soon went into full disco mode with Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.”
After a 15-minute intermission, Sophie Silnicki, the event’s featured dancer, took the stage. Silnicki, a 16-year-old Fairmont native and ballerina, performed two dances for the audience: a classical piece, “Raymonda Act 2,” and a modern piece called “Gone,” which featured music from the recent film “Snow White and the Huntsman.”
Following her performance, winners were announced. For the people’s choice, Fitzwater and Calhoun won second place, and Thomas and Levitsky won first. For the judge’s choice, Swearingen and Jessup won second place, and Yann and Holmes took first. The winners were presented with mirror ball trophies.
The announcement was followed by open dancing.
350 people were in attendance at the event, which sold out Tuesday.
“We probably could have sold another 100 tickets, if we had had the room,” Shaw said. “People were calling the Chamber today, trying to find tickets.”
Shaw estimated that the event helped to raise over $25,000 for the two groups.
The event took 10 months to plan.
Levitsky’s family came from as far away as Florida to watch him compete.
“We really appreciate everyone that supported us,” Levitsky said. “And really, the big winner was United Way and the Chamber of Commerce.”
Email Colleen S. Good at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.