Dancers line up for charity

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GREENFIELD — It might not have had all the glamour and flash of the long-running television dance show, but Greenfield’s inaugural “Dancing With the Stars” competition was packed with local talent, celebrity judges and a lot of good-natured fun — all to benefit a local charity.

As the Women’s Resource Center’s first fundraiser, Dancing With the Stars raised more than $4,000 on Friday evening at St. Michael’s Church to continue the organization’s mission of connecting women and families with resources to enable them to become economically independent.

Beth Ingle, chairwoman of the Women’s Resource Center Board of Directors, welcomed guests to the event and introduced the evening’s master of ceremonies, former chief probation officer Wayne Addison, who outlined the procedure for the line-dancing competition.

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The eight contestants — Marie Castetter and Brent Eaton, chief deputy prosecutor and prosecutor for Hancock County; Kathy Hall, broker and co-owner of Berkshire Hathaway Realty; Sandy Miller, the Hancock County Women’s Fund committee chair; Jeff Rasche, Chief of the Greenfield Police Department; James Roberts, Chief of Greenfield Fire Territory; Noelle Russell, former editor in chief at the Greenfield Daily Reporter; and Andy Wilkins, digital sales manager at the Greenfield Daily Reporter — would all compete in the first round.

The celebrity judges — Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell, Jill Collins of RE/MAX Realty and Josh Sipes from the Hancock County Probation Department — would score the dancers, cutting the field to four for the second round, and then to two for the third and final round.

As the contestants took the floor — many of them slapping hands like athletes before the big game — it was clear that several of them had taken special care with their attire for the performance. Roberts represented the fire department dressed in his turnout gear, complete with pants, boots and helmet. Rasche wore a fluorescent vest labeled “police.” Other contestants, in acknowledgement of the country roots of line dancing, donned boots and western attire.

Guests were invited to join in with the dancers, but most kept to their seats tapping their feet or danced along the sidelines.

The winner of the competition would be awarded a 2-foot tall trophy — a silver pylon with a mirror ball on top. A second trophy — a smaller copy of the championship prize — would be awarded to a people’s choice winner, selected by the number of dollars dropped into buckets bearing each contestant’s name.

At the end of the first round, the judges broke with the rules and selected five contestants to continue: Castetter, Miller, Rasche, Russell and Wilkins.

In spite of the eliminations, all eight contestants continued to participate sporting a variety of cowboy hats — except for Rasche who took to the floor in a strawberry blonde mullet wig (à la Billy Ray Cyrus) to perform to Cyrus’ hit, “Achy-Breaky Heart.”

The second round saw the elimination of all participants except Castetter and Miller. The crowd momentarily erupted into good-natured booing when the judges scored Rasche, a crowd favorite, lower than expected.

“I’m very disappointed,” Rasche deadpanned. “I thought the judges were supposed to be impartial.”

Rasche cheered up considerably at the end of evening, however, when he was presented the People’s Choice award, having received $419 in votes from the attendees.

At the conclusion of the third and most difficult round of dance — to Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” judges’ scores resulted in an unexpected tie between Castetter and Miller. Again breaking with convention, the judges recalled one of the previously-eliminated contestants — Noelle Russell — to participate in a dance-off with Castetter and Miller as a tie-breaker.

The tie-breaking dance turned out to be a swing number instead of a line dance. Russell, another fan favorite, pulled off the victory when she pulled her 77-year-old father, Dr. David Steele, to the floor with her, causing the judges to unanimously declare Russell — and her father — the winners.

Russell grew up watching her parents –David and Nancy — dance, but it wasn’t until she was older she realized what fun it was to have her dad as a dance partner. Though Russell admitted she lacks any real training, she and her dad have flaunted their skills when they had the opportunity. In December, Glenn Miller’s big-band favorite, “In the Mood,” served as their father-daughter dance at Russell’s wedding. When it was announced that the dance-off would be in swing-dance style, Russell said she knew just what to do: she shot her dad the high-sign from the floor, and together, the two stole the show.

“He’s 77 and still whips around the dance floor,” Russell said. “It’s sweet and charming and made up for my complete lack of improv skills. I figured the only way I might win was to get the judges to ignore me and look at someone who knows what he’s doing.”

A good deal of the success of the evening went to Lupe Carnes and Betty Kremer, two volunteers from the Senior Center, who coached the contestants in their line-dancing skills. The two met several times with the dancer-wannabes to learn the three dances performed during the competition.

Ingle and her board of directors at the Women’s Resource Center are grateful to all who helped make their first-time fundraiser a success, including the more than 100 in attendance.

“The success of the night solidified the decision to continue with the line-dancing,” Ingle said.

“In fact,” Ingle added, “we’ve already recruited two dancers for next year’s event: Mary Gibble, Hancock County Community Foundation president, and (Circuit Court) Judge Scott Sirk.”

To learn more about the Women’s Resource Center and its work in the community, visit hcwrc.org.