by Lauren Owens
Twelve couples jived, salsaed, and swung across the stage during the 2019 Dancing For Our Future Stars fundraiser Thursday evening at the SiMT building on the Florence-Darlington Technical College campus.
More than 800 people attended the sold-out fundraiser to benefit The School Foundation. This is the ninth year The School Foundation has hosted the Dancing For Our Future Stars fundraiser.
The foundation is a nonprofit organization that was created to provide resources and support to the administrators, teachers and students of Florence One Schools.
After all 12 couples performed their dances, five couples competed in a dance-off for receiving all 10s for their performances. Celebrity dancers J.B. Mathieu, Nathaniel Lockhart, Luke Wilcox, Robert LeMaster and Tyler Perry all competed in the dance-off.
Luke Wilcox and Alexis McDonald won the “Technical Skills Award” for their jive dance to the song “Trouble” by Travis Tritt.
“I cannot believe it,” McDonald said. “I did not expect it. I went in knowing that I’d won the year prior and it was for charity more than anything, and then they gave me a good partner. If I have a good partner, we can push to be the best that we can be.”
This is the third time Alexis McDonald has won the technical skills award in Dancing For Our Future Stars.
J.B. Mathieu and Erin Haynes won the most entertaining award for their Salsa dance to “Boogie Wonderland,” which was selected by the judges.
Robert LeMaster and Meggie Baker won the social stars award, which is an award for receiving the most online votes. Kevin Miller and Ethan Welsh won the people’s choice award for raising the most money for The School Foundation.
Celebrity dancer Dr. Veeral Oza, who is a gastroenterologist at McLeod Regional Medical Center, had family from Chicago, Ill., come to Florence to see his dance to “Shape of You.”
“It was a good experience,” Oza said. “I think it brought back a lot of memories from our childhood – especially my sister and I.”
Oza and his sister used to dance when they were children, performing a traditional Indian dance called the Garba. Oza danced with professional dancer Dr. Rachel Fenters, who is also a doctor at McLeod Regional Medical Center.
The School Foundation executive director Debbie Hyler said she loves to see the growth of the dancers from the beginning of practices to the final night.
“You don’t ever know how your dancers are going to be,” Hyler said. “It’s amazing to watch the growth. To see how much they’ve really been able to learn. A lot of them are not really dancers … Some of them are way out of the comfort zones so I just admire them so much because I don’t think I could do it.”
For all nine years that Dancing For Our Future Stars has taken place, Burnadene Kelley-Newman, owner and founder of Kelley’s Fine Arts, has allowed the couples to use her facilities and she has assisted with choreography for the competition.
“It’s amazing,” Kelley-Newman said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way. I do this of course for the children like anybody else who is out here.”
Kelly-Newman said she loves to see the celebrity dancers come out of the competition with a new appreciation and understanding for dance.
To date, The School Foundation has awarded more than $1.5 million in grants Florence One Schools. Past grants have helped provide STEM materials, support the early childhood program and other programs within Florence One.
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