By MAGGIE MENDERSKIHerald-Whig Staff Writer
Locals have flocked to the Dancing With the Local Stars event for the past two years to watch familiar faces take a spin on the dance floor.
The performance, which benefits Cornerstone: Foundation for Families, drew more than 300 people in 2011. John Hirner, Cornerstone's executive director, says he lost track of the number of people in 2012 after it more than doubled the first year's total.
Hirner expects an equally enthusiastic crowd for this year's competition Feb. 1 at the Ambiance.
"The folks who agree to dance, the local stars, they put in a tremendous effort to the event," he said. "They practice quite rigorously."
As in years past, Donna Smith, a member of the Dancing With the Local Stars committee, approaches locals and asks them to step out of their comfort zone and strut out on the dance floor.
One of them is Sara Platt, owner of The Sweet Apricot Shop, who will be dancing with her husband, David Corrigan, patient access supervisor at Blessing Hospital. The couple had planned to attend the event anyway, but Smith had more in mind than placing those two on the guest list.
"I'm not as nervous as I think my husband is," Platt said. "He's the one that's kind of stressed out. At the same time, we're all just really happy to be helping out that charity."
Some have requested a spot in the competition's lineup, but more often than not, the invitation is nearly as surprising as the skill level for the local stars.
"It takes somebody that's willing to just put their fears aside and do it," Smith said.
Smith admired the ingenuity and thought the contestants have invested in the competition. She seeks both a strong mix of music and faces the audience will recognize. In the past two years, a true cross of community members such as bank executives, business owners, firefighters, teachers and city officials have entertained the crowds with both swift and fumbling moves.
Local dance studios join in the cause and work with the dancers to polish and perfect the routines before the competition. Cheryl Loatsch Studio, Vancil Performing Arts and Qdance have contributed training time to three years' worth of competitors.
Platt is relieved to be paired up with her husband, but the genre surprised her. Neither had ever had formal training -- especially hip hop training.
"I've never danced before, and I know Dave has definitely never done any dance classes," Platt said. "We ended up picking a really, really fun song that everyone is going to recognize. I think it'll be a good crowd-pleaser."
For Scott Davis, general manager at Dene Lambkin Hyundai, it's all about the entertainment value. He and his partner, former WGEM news anchor Jennifer Wendling, have selected Bruno Mars' "Locked Out of Heaven." This couple has also teamed up with another local performer to add an extra flair to the routine.
"If they want to be entertained, watch our act. They'll definitely be entertained," Davis said.
While the community must wait until February until the acts are unveiled, Platt said competitiveness already has spiked among dancers. Smith noted the event is more of a fundraiser than an actual competition, but for Platt and several other pairs, enthusiasm has blossomed from the preparation. She said everyone involved is eager to win.
"The people that are involved really put their whole heart into it," Platt said.
Just as noticeable as the heart of the performance is the heart of the cause. Platt said Smith and the committee project a true passion for the child welfare agency and the variety of family support and counseling services it provides.
"It seems like every time I talk to (Smith), you can feel how important this is to the people that work there," Platt said.
Cornerstone: Foundations for Families began in 1947 as Family Service Agency of Adams County. Throughout the years, the agency has changed as the needs of the community have developed.
"If you can have fun and raise money for a good cause at the same time, it's a win-win," Smith said.