By Melissa Rollins, Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Darlington County was dressed in its finest Thursday, Jan. 26 as a crowd packed The Center Theatre for the 2017 Dancing with the Stars of Darlington County event. By the end of the night the celebrity and professional dance teams had quick-stepped, tangoed and waltzed their hearts out, checkbooks had been opened and a winner was crowned.
In its fourth year, the event benefits The Pee Dee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Assault. Money was raised through ticket purchases and as well as through the purchase of votes for the People’s Choice Award, determined solely by the public.
Comedian Andy Locklair served as Master of Ceremonies, dressed as a conductor to match the events theme ‘All Aboard.’ Judges for the evening were Jordan Pupa, Robert Everett, Graham Wood, Gloria Mack Bell and Pat Miller Baker.
Before each couple took the stage, a short video showed clips of their practices. The dancers talked about the process of preparing for the fundraising event and why they wanted to participate. Many spoke of wanting to help those in abusive situations find a safe place and a way to start over. For one dancer, it was more personal.
“I grew up in a military family, traveling a lot,” Autumne Stuart said. “As a little girl, I had a lot of different best friends. One of the things that I realize now, as an adult, is that all of my friends had been victims of sexual violence. So for me, it was important to be a part of this.”
Stuart and her dance partner Jeffery Tadlock took home the People’s Choice Award, after garnering the most votes from the community.
Two dance teams were made up of real-life couples: Brandi and Cal Wheeler are married and have one son; Bob Brown and Frida James will be married later in February.
Several of the couples did a switcheroo, starting their routines with one song before transitioning to something more fun, showing off their skills to more than one style of music.
In the end, Hartsville High School football coach Jeff Calabrese and his partner Ali Nelson were named second runner-up. Blade Boulware and Natalie Elesser were first runner-up; Elesser also got the unofficial title of youngest dancer at just fifteen-years-old.
Shantella Harris, owner and creative director for the Driven by Dance studio, and Ashley Shelley, a Criminal Investigator for the Florence Police Department, took home top prize and two mirror ball trophies.
Pee Dee Coalition is a nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to the reduction of sexual assault, family violence, and child abuse and to the needs of its victims. More information and resources can be found at peedeecoalition.org.