Woo! I am still in a daze after last night’s amazing event. We set a new fundraising record of $248,013 of which Dean raised over $70,000! His total made us the People’s Choice award winners! I am so proud of all his hard work both on and off the dance floor. He and his wife Ashley (Daniel’s partner in 2012 when they won People’s Choice) are a power couple in the best possible way: boundless positive energy, totally down to earth, always ready to “git ‘er dun.” So that’s just what we did! After the jump, a full rundown of the evening’s adventures + some pics!
Each year I’ve danced in this event, I’ve looked at the 4:00 p.m. call time with skepticism. As in, “Do I really need to be there at 4 when we don’t dance till 8?” Short answer: yes. It is so much nicer not to be rushed! I arrived at the Macon City Auditorium in yoga pants and my Dancing Stars t-shirt with fuzzy hair and no makeup, hauling 2 dresses, 2 pairs of shoes, a makeup bag, various hair products, an evening purse, my regular purse, and some jewelry. The ladies’ side of the dressing room was already swamped with my fellow cast members getting their hair styled and make-up done. So I interloped on the gentlemen’s side, which stayed mostly deserted all night long (I only walked in on one guy in his skivvies). Had my makeup mostly on by the time Dean arrived. After getting one of the stylists to glue my eyelashes on, I went to find Dean and we walked through our routine before putting our cocktail party clothes on. Everyone was supposed to be dressed for the cocktail party before the cast meeting at 5:30.
The meeting took place in the “green room,” which the event organizers had decorated beautifully with couches and chairs, lights, and pictures of the current cast and alumni casts, plus big spreads of hors d’oeuvres and drinks. It was the perfect combination of comfort and festivity. At the meeting we got the rundown of the evening’s events and got to meet a special guest judge, Hazel Minnick. Hazel has Alzheimer’s disease and took up ballroom dancing to improve her mobility and cognition. She is a powerhouse and an inspiration and we were so honored to have her at the event. During the judging she had great positive comments for everyone–it’s obvious that she has a real understanding of all the benefits of dance: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
The cocktail party was gorgeous: beautiful weather out on the terrace and everyone looking glamorous. Even my friend Sadie, a committed wearer of shorts and t-shirts, went all out with an evening dress. I got to meet a bunch of Dean’s friends and family, and saw Daniel for a total of about 2 minutes before he had to go in for dinner and I had to go back downstairs to get ready for the show to start. Dean and I were 2nd in the lineup, so we carried our costumes to the upstairs “holding tank” with help from our adorable student liaison, Hagen. We would change from our cocktail wear to our costumes in the holding tank. Hayiya Dance Theatre and the alumni cast members opened the show with a high-energy Bollywood number while we all waited to walk in the “Parade of Stars”: we were each announced and crossed the stage (still in our cocktail wear) to lots of cheering from the audience. It was a packed house and the venue looked spectacular. Just putting my feet on the stage made me feel excited to perform!
As soon as we returned to the holding tank, most of the cast got to go back downstairs, but the first 3 couples (Jim & Jayme, Dean & me, and Cason & Patrick) started throwing clothes around, not being entirely sure how much time we had to change. I got my dress, shoes, and gauntlets on in record time. Dean had me spray his hair into submission and I had him put a purple glitter ribbon sticker on the small of my back, right above the back of my dress. The crowd in the green room told me later that they could see it on the video feed and everybody cheered when they saw it. Hooray! Jim and Jayme had to go on deck right away but we got to wait through the judges’ introductions and go up while Jim and Jayme were dancing. Special shout-out here to Hagen, who bore my rather brusque last-minute instructions with perfect equanimity! She wet a towel for me to moisten my shoes because the floor was slick–without her help our dance would have been more like a skating routine! While Dean’s introductory video was playing I was putting my feet on that towel and testing them on the floor in the wings. So much better.
Finally we heard “Please welcome to the stage…Dean Copelan and Laura Thomason!” With the lights still out, Dean crossed to the opposite side of the stage and I took my place at stage left, facing the trophies. The music started, the lights came up, and we gave it everything we had. In a good performance, everything rolls smoothly and goes unbelievably fast. That’s how this performance was. I had warned Dean that he wouldn’t remember the performance afterward, and he found out that I was right. We agreed that we could not have done it any better! His supporters were yelling their heads off the entire time–it was so exciting to have so much good energy from the crowd.
The judges gave us great comments about what a bold choice the paso doble was. It is a “dancer’s dance” in a lot of ways. Most of the other dances were more crowd-pleasing but the character of the paso fit Dean so well physically that I can’t imagine having done anything else. He really rose to the occasion of dancing a routine that requires a lot of independence and a big presence. The judges also commented that we used the whole stage and “owned” the stage while we were out there. That might be my favorite bit of feedback ever, because that was exactly what I wanted our dance to do!
And then we were done and off the stage, heading back down in the elevator to the green room for a victory drink and some hors d’oeuvres. Performing earlier in a show is nerve-wracking in its own special way, but it was great to be able to relax and enjoy the other performances–which, by the way, were excellent. My castmates are a talented bunch! We also got to be interviewed from the green room by Vance Shepherd of WDEN, which was extra fun and made the whole thing feel a little more celebrity-ish. Amyre Makupson (WGXA news anchor, one of the stars) and I agreed that they should have had a “mani cam” as on E! awards shows.
As the last couple of dances were going on, we were all sent upstairs to the holding tank once again, for a closing Parade of Dancers. Then back to the green room during the judges’ deliberations and final fundraising calculation. That was probably the most agonizing wait for me because the trophies were on the line! Finally we lined up onstage for the results announcement. Mary Pinson, last year’s People’s Choice winner (partnered by my USA Dance buddy Chester Gibbs) announced that this year’s People’s Choice was my very own Dean Copelan, with a fundraising total over $70,000! Holy cow! Dean looked so delighted. We got to go up, receive our trophies, and answer questions from the MCs (WGXA weatherman Jeff Cox and WDEN personality Laura Starling). Jeff allowed me to clarify for the good people of Macon that our dance is not called the “Taco Grande.”
We went back to our place in the line and the judges came on stage to announce the Judges’ Choice winner. For the first time, they announced a tie: Charles Olson and Kailey Rhodes AND Chris Wilson and Pilar Wilder! They both deserved the win for their high-energy, high-flying, crowd-pleasing routines. Kailey’s reaction was the greatest: she jumped up and down and then threw her arms and legs around Charles in a koala-hug of glee. Pilar, of course, brightened the whole stage with her beautiful smile, as she always does. The gentlemen were obviously astonished and delighted as well. After two years of ladies sweeping all the trophies, this year the gents took home all the honors. Well played, guys.
I have a giant mirror-ball trophy sitting on my desk as I type this entry. The entire experience is like being famous for one day. I wouldn’t want to be famous all the time, but one day a year is just right, Goldilocks-style. Dean was a great partner in dance, fundraising, and part-time fame. It was an honor to be involved in the event and to support this extremely important cause. Alzheimer’s is devastating to those who suffer from it and to their families and caregivers.
Now for the pictures! First, check out this slideshow from the Macon Telegraph.
Then, check out my & Daniel’s pictures from last night: