Dancing for a cause: Dance event to raise money for The Arc of Washington County

September 29, 2012|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE |
  • Clayton Wilcox, superintendent of Washington County Public Schools, and his professional dance partner, Amber Henry, rehearse a line dance for Saturdays Dancing with the Arc Stars event.
Photo by Yvette May/Staff Photographer

When local celebrities Heather Guessford, Clayton Wilcox and Joe Ross signed up for Dancing with the Arc Stars, they probably weren't quite prepared for the amount of dedication needed.

Since June, they've been shuffling-ball-changing their way through weekly rehearsals. Their routine also has translated into tired feet, aching bodies and, in Guessford's case, bruising.

But when the trio take the stage with their professional dancing partners Saturday, Oct. 6, at Hager Hall Conference & Event Center, pain will be the least of their worries.

Because it's showtime — and it's live.

Festivities begin at 6 p.m. with a cocktail hour featuring a dancing exhibition by students from Barbara Ingram School for the Arts. Dinner and the dance competition will start at 7 p.m.

As a way to raise funds and celebrate The Arc of Washington County's 60th anniversary, the organization is hosting Dancing with the Arc Stars. Just like the TV show with a similar name, local celebrities are given partners with dancing backgrounds and are taught new dances that they must perform.

The winner for the evening will receive a statue that evokes the mirror ball that the stars on the TV show receive.

Renelle Flurie, owner and artistic director of Ballet and All That Jazz north of Hagerstown, has paired up the celebrities with former students. The group works with her as well as Irv and Betty Easterday, who are professional ballroom dancers. The three celebrity couples will perform the waltz, the jive and a line dance.

"It's a great fundraiser and it's a great organization," Flurie said. "And this is how I can give back to the community."

She said when they asked her back in June, "I said, ‘Terrific. Let's meet and start practicing.' I think they didn't think I was serious."

The contestants

Guessford, who is career development manager at Kaplan University, is paired with Flurie's son, Ryan Flurie.

"I wanted to do Dancing with the Stars because I'm very active in the nonprofit community," she said.

Although she's not had any professional dancing background, the athleticism of the dances appealed to her as well as the "out-of-the-box" approach.

"I liked that it was new, that it was fresh and it wasn't just another auction," she said.

She said the waltz was challenging.

"That was actually the hardest dance to learn so far because it's very intricate, very intimate dance," she said. "The first three months were spent just learning the different steps of the waltz and how to do them properly so we make our instructors proud of us and make them look good, too."

Guessford said because she keeps active and still considers herself an athlete, she thought it would be easy.

"And then I started doing the jive with a lot of very intense lifts, and I learned pretty quickly that I'm kind of out of shape," she said with a laugh. "A lot harder that I expected."

Wilcox is superintendent of Washington County Public Schools. He is paired with Amber Henry, who is a local teacher.

Wilcox said he agreed to be a dancer because he thought it was a good organization and a good cause.

"But I said yes, not really asking what I would be doing," he said. "And now that I'm in it, I really can't back out."

Wilcox does come to the event with some dancing background. From third through fifth grade, his parents enrolled him in tap dancing classes.

"Unfortunately, even back then, I couldn't really follow the steps," he said. "I'm not a very good dancer, but I'm an experienced dancer."

Wilcox said he's taken some lessons away from the event.

"I really didn't know much about dance. I thought that I did," he said. "It also taught me that you're never too old to be a learner. And at the same time, it tells me that I'm not as athletic that I once was."

He has enrolled his wife and daughters to help him learn his steps, but it looks as if his wife might benefit the most.

"She's actually said that this is probably the best part of the dancing, that I won't slow dance going in circles anymore, that I'll have some footwork," he said. "Little does she know I'm not that good, so I'm not sure if that will change our dance routine."

Ross, president and chief executive officer of Meritus Health, is paired with Brenna Bacon Ranieli, who is a local chiropractor.

"Anything we can do to support Arc, in their work, in our community is something that I want to be part of," Ross said.

He said he has a new found respect for dance.

"I have a much deeper respect for how much hard work goes into preparing dance and how hard dancers work in their craft," he said.

Ross said he doesn't have a favorite dance. Instead, he has appreciated aspects from each — the history from the waltz, the fact that the jive is a younger person's dance and the line dancing is fun, high-energy and entertaining.

"I've always been a little bit of a class clown. I thought I could go out and entertain the audience with humor," he said, "but what I learned very quickly with the help of these young people who are dedicated to dance and take this very seriously - this is really an opportunity to learn something new and develop something I can use later in life and at the same time do good work in our community."

Flurie said she's proud of what they've been able to accomplish.

"We have a lot to show and a lot talent, a lot of hard work," Flurie said of her celebrity students.

$100,000 renovations goal

Judges for the evening will be Thomas B. Riford, president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Bernadette Wagner, co-director of Volunteer Washington County, and Raychel Harvey-Jones, HMTV6 news director.

The dancers won't be judged by their dancing skills, however, but how much money each raises. Before the evening, fans can go to and vote for their favorite contestants. Or, that night, they can bring a checkbook and stuff the voting boxes. Each vote costs a dollar.

Phyllis Landry, executive director, said The Arc provides supports and services for people with developmental disabilities.

The evening's goal is $100,000 to help for renovations for the Mac McLean Center. The facility was acquired as part of the expansion of The Arc's campus in support of the continued growth of its many programs.

"That can be anything from a job, to day program — maybe they have medical needs — to a home, and that could be anywhere from a one-person apartment to living with a couple of folks with disabilities, and everything in between," she said.

Landry said The Arc supports 900 people of all ages in the western region, primarily in Washington County. The western region of the The Arc serves people in Garrett and Allegany counties as well as parts of Frederick County.

"(Our clients range) from children to death, basically," Landry said. "We have folks in their 80s."

Landry said people would be surprised at how big The Arc of Washington County is.

"We employ about 625 staff, so that makes us one of the biggest employers of Washington County," she said. "And that we're throughout the county."

She said they have about 50 homes.

"We could be your next-door neighbor," she said.

Landry credits Cort Meinelschmidt, president of the Arc's board, for bringing the idea for Dancing with the Arc Stars to the group.

Meinelschmidt said he had heard of another nonprofit in Frederick, Md., do a similar event and felt it would be the right fit for The Arc.

He said he's been happy with the reaction from the start.

"Everybody who's involved, we asked them one time and they said they would love to do this," he said.

And even though this event hasn't even started, Meinelschmidt is looking to the future.

"We'd love for this to be an annual fundraiser," he said.

As for the next 60 years for The Arc?

"The folks with disabilities will set the tone for what Arc does and what it becomes," Landry said.

If you go

WHAT: Dancing with the Arc Stars

WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 6; begins at 6 p.m., dancing at 7 p.m.

WHERE: Hager Hall Conference & Event Center, 901 Dual Highway, Hagerstown

COST: $75

CONTACT: For more information, go to Go to to donate a dollar and vote for favorite.

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