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Celebrity dancers show off their fancy footwork for a good cause

October 06, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Contestant Clayton Wilcox and his dance partner Amber Henry whirl in first dance Saturday at Hager Hall. They were in the finals round of a dance competition to benefit Arc of Washington County.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

One is the president of a medical center, another is a college career development manager and yet another is superintendent of public schools.

But Saturday night, they stepped out of their comfort zone and added another title to their resume — celebrity dancers.

Before a crowd of 300 supporters at Hager Hall Conference & Event Center, three community leaders brought new meaning to the term movers and shakers.

They swept across the floor in 3/4 time to a waltz, bounced to the jive and did a high-energy country line dance — all with the goal of not only showing off their fancy footwork, but raising money for a good cause.

Joe Ross, president and chief executive officer of Meritus Health; Heather Guessford, career development manager at Kaplan University; and Clayton M. Wilcox, superintendent of Washington County Public Schools, had spent months preparing for their big night of dancing, with long rehearsal hours added to full-time workloads.

Now, it was showtime.

It was all part of “Dancing with the Arc Stars,” a fundraiser for The Arc of Washington County, which provides support and services for people with developmental disabilities.

Each contestant was teamed with a professional dancer, who served as both instructor and competition partner.  Ross was paired with Brenna Bacon Ranieli; Guessford’s partner was Ryan Flurie; and Wilcox was paired with Amber Henry.

While a panel of judges was on hand for the event, the contestants weren’t graded on their dancing skills. Instead, it was how much money each raised. Supporters were able to vote online before the event and donations boxes also were set up throughout the ballroom.

When the final tally was in, Guessford was awarded the trophy.

As they waited in the wings before the competition, each contestant reflected on the challenge that was before them that evening.

Ross described himself as excited rather than nervous.

“With The Arc celebrating its 60th anniversary, I’m happy to be a small part of it,” he said. “But I have to admit, I want that disco ball. I just hope I don’t fall down. If I don’t, it will be a good night.”

Guessford admitted to “being really nervous. We do a lot of lifts and jumps in our routine, so the jitters are coming on.”

Although she has emceed large events, Guessford said this was the first time she had performed before so many people.

“But I have a lot of supporters here tonight, so I hope that carries me through,” she said.

Wilcox said he was feeling “a little anxiety, but I’m also kind of excited. There is so much positive energy here tonight.”

When he was asked to be a contestant in “Dancing with The Arc Stars,” Wilcox said he answered yes before having a full explanation of what he would be doing.

“But when I was told it was for The Arc, I knew I wanted to help out,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to give back to the community and to support a terrific organization.”

Wilcox said he hoped he didn’t make a mistake.

“But if I do, Amber (his dance partner) will carry me and I hope the crowd will be forgiving,” he said.

Phyllis Landry, executive director of The Arc, said she was “extremely excited about the community’s involvement in helping to make the event a success.”

“It’s just amazing the support we’ve received,” she said. “It’s also humbling. Truly humbling.”

According to Landry, organizers hoped to raise $100,000 from the event, which would be designated for capital improvements to the Mac McLean Center, a facility that was acquired as part of the expansion of The Arc’s campus.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the The Arc of Washington County, she said, and the dance competition was a fun way to mark the milestone.

“Typically, we do basket bingos, bonanzas or an ox roast as fundraisers,” she said. “This time, we wanted to do an event that would really introduce people to who we are. And this is the way to do it.”

Landry said the night had just started and board members already were talking about holding the event again next year.

“It’s been such a huge success. We can’t stop smiling,” she said.

The evening began with a dance exhibition by students from the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, followed by dinner and the competition.

Judges for the evening included 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, anchor and producer.

Lou Scally served as master of ceremonies.

Although all three contestants admitted that they enjoyed being part of the event, none were considering a side career or a double life as a competitive dancer.

“I have no eyes for Broadway,” Wilcox said, laughing. “I’m staying with my day job.”

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