Byrd's Eye View - Dancing for Safe Haven
In life, it’s important to occasionally push yourself out of your comfort zone even if it means risking public embarrassment, which I seem to do more often than not thanks to my propensity for being an utter klutz.
So, when the fine folks at Safe Haven Family Shelter dropped me a line to see if I would be interested in being one of the local personalities for their Dancing for Safe Haven benefit, I agreed without a moment’s hesitation or really even thinking it through. (I do that sometimes, and it’s a habit I’m trying to break.)
Somehow, I convinced myself that the event would surely be a small affair performed in front of just a few strangers. Plus, my mother owned an Arthur Murray franchise when I was a child. Surely that would be more than enough to carry me through the entire experience without wincing once. I was, of course, wrong — a feeling that is, unfortunately, not so foreign to me.
When I showed up at Dance World, one of the nation’s top dance studios that just so happens to be right here in Nashville, for my first lesson with champion professional dancer Dennis Woods, I quickly realized that this whole experience was going to be for real, like for real for real. And my repertoire of jerky, booty-shaking movements that include The Sprinkler, The Shopping Cart and The Car Wash from years of clubbing simply would not do.
On the first day of rehearsing our tango, Dennis tried to convince me that he could somehow throw me to the floor and drag me in a graceful manner that would surely wow the judges. I vetoed that after our first attempt challenged my trick ankle in a way that would surely scare the hell out of the judges. Grace was the last thing I would be conveying with that move.
Luckily, after four more rehearsals, we found a routine that I could get through without bursting into giggles. The night of the event was upon us. Only it was nothing like I had imagined. In fact, there was a sold-out crowd of nearly 400 of Nashville’s most well-to-do citizens, and they were all in black tie seated in a beautiful ballroom at the Hutton Hotel.
To say that I was nervous would be a vast understatement. Backstage, for hours before my turn, I paced. I perspired. I swore. But I did not drink — anything alcoholic that is — thanks to a tip from Dennis that was probably more threat than advice.
One by one, the dancers took the stage. Manuel opened the show accompanied by eight dancers clothed in his custom bolero jackets to a number called “Diablo Rojo” and was rewarded with huge applause from the audience. Country star Danielle Peck and her partner Matt Stewart then performed a beautiful fox trot. Next up were self-made millionaire and political supporter Ted Welch and his partner Emily Masters. They performed a rumba and a samba to “Whatever Lola Wants.”
And then, OMG, it was our turn. I wanted to run. I wanted to hide. I nearly barfed. Dennis and I walked to the center of the floor and quietly waited for our rehearsal footage, a montage of mistakes reel, to finish airing on the huge video screens. Yeah, that wasn’t awkward in the slightest.
And then our music started, and before I even took a breath, our number was over and mostly without obvious faults, thank goodness! But before we could leave the stage, the show’s hosts, Gary Chapman and Ericka Dunlap, escorted us in front of the judges, The Nashville Ballet’s Paul Vasterling, Julie Eskind, Danny Baye of Dance World and Ellen Nelson of NFocus to await our scores. We pulled two 10s and two 9s, (on a 1-10 scale with 10 being the best, no less) — not too shabby if I do say so myself, although it might have had something to do with the nonstop supply of wine the judges enjoyed throughout the show.
But in the end, it wasn’t enough to cinch the victory. Musician Mark Volman and his partner Annie Tyhskevych took the online vote award. The president of the Safe Haven Family Shelter Board, Jim Shulman, and his partner, Marie Bass, took the judge’s favorite award. Coincidence? I think not. (I tease . . . sweetly). And little Mrs. Kelly Sutton from Fox’s Tennessee Mornings swept the audience favorite award for her exuberant cha cha to Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” with her partner Christopher Wayne, a routine she practiced nonstop for months and months and months. (I tease again.)
So, am I sad that I didn’t win? Not really. Well, maybe just a little for my partner, Dennis — he’s so used to winning. But, am I glad that I overcame my fear of the ballroom dance floor? Absolutely. And next year, if they’ll have me again, you better believe I’m coming after you, Kelly Sutton!
PICTURED: Professional dancers Matt Stewart and Christopher Wayne of Dance World at the Dancing for Safe Haven benefit at The Hutton Hotel on Friday, April 9, 2010. The inaugural event paired local stars with professional dancers to showcase their ballroom talents on the dance floor and all proceeds from the event went to benefit Safe Haven Family Shelter.