Carole and Michael Lehan had a touch of theatrics in their fox trot and Jordan and Ivette Naftal offered some sizzle in their tango, but Ron and Joanne Eyre's energetic swing dance kicks and big smiles won the crowd's approval - and the top prize - at Howard County Tourism's first Dancing with Dazzling Howard County Stars contest.
The contest was an addition to the tourism group's annual Soiree fundraiser Wednesday night, and it proved to be a hit with several hundred guests who crowded around the dance floor to cheer the fancy footwork.
The tourism group started the contest this year because "we said there needs to be a stand-alone kind of event to offer some entertainment value," said Barbara Lett, this year's Soiree volunteer chairwoman.
Inspired by the popularity of the television show Dancing With the Stars, the soiree's organizers approached several couples with ties to tourism and at least a little dancing skill.
Ron Eyre is president of Eyre Tour and Travel, the Naftals own Jordan's Steakhouse in historic Ellicott City and the Lehans are involved in the local arts scene, including performances at Toby's Dinner Theatre.
Soiree is the tourism organization's main fundraiser for the year, Lett said. It raised $40,000 last year, with 400 guests in attendance.
This year, the organizers focused on a Parisian theme. Can-can dancers and beret-wearing helpers circulated under two tents in the gardens at Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge. More than 20 local restaurants offered food, wine and cocktails while guests bid in silent and live auctions.
Additional entertainment was provided by the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company and Kinetics Dance Theatre.
The Eyres said they didn't know how much work they were getting into when their son, Matthew, who is president of Howard County Tourism's board of directors, came home from a meeting and said he mentioned them as possible participants.
"We've been dancing together at social events since we started going together," said Ron Eyre, who has been married to Joanne for 36 years and raised three sons with her. But for the Soiree, "We had to choreograph the number and look like we were dancing together."
The Soiree organizers arranged for them to get some help from Laurie Anderson, owner of Dance Instructor To Go, in Towson. "She helped us take what we had and incorporate it into [more of a] routine," Joanne said.
Dressed in a jacket-less tuxedo for him and a long dress and feather boa for her, the couple offered an upbeat, smooth-moving routine to "Let's Dance" by Benny Goodman.
Anderson was one of three judges, along with Gabe Gamboa from the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Columbia and Emily Socolinsky, a Kinetics Dance Theatre member. They praised the fact that the couple looked like they were having fun.
The Lehans went next. They have theater and choreography experience - they met as dance partners in a production at Toby's Dinner Theatre before marrying and raising two sons. So they made up their own routine, practicing in their driveway and at Glenelg Country School, where Carole is director of performing arts.
That didn't keep them from getting a little lost and improvising a chunk of their routine to Natalie Cole's version of "Orange Colored Sky," Carole said. But their theater training showed in their flirtatious looks and relaxed smiles as they went through some fast-moving footwork and several quick spins.
Ivette Naftal said she and her husband "are always up on the dance floor" at social events. She also took dance lessons in the past and competed in contests in New York dance clubs.
But the couple, who have been married 17 years and have three sons, needed help getting together in a choreographed routine. They took advantage of six weeks of lessons at Arthur Murray Dance Studio.
They settled on a version of the song "Roxanne," as performed in the movie Moulin Rouge, and offered a few steamy moves, including one in which Ivette hooked one leg over Jordan's arm while he pulled her gently across the dance floor.
In the end, the audience applauded loudest for the Eyres, giving them the crystal vase trophy. But people agreed the show was more important than the competition.
"It think it is nice to have an element of entertainment other than just a cocktail party," said Christine Sohns, who attended with co-workers from Indigo Ink Digital Printing company in Columbia.
The Arbutus resident said she is a big fan of the television show Dancing With the Stars, and was excited to see the Howard County version on the evening's agenda.
Before the contest began, she said she was "taking in the sights, enjoying the cuisine."
Marleen Beck, a day care owner from Glenelg, didn't have time to relax as she monitored her bids in the silent auction to make sure no one topped her.
"I'm an old pro at auctions," she said. "When you want something, you hover."
She let out a victorious "whoo-hoo" when bidding closed on one table and she had the highest offer for a basket of gift certificates from Turf Valley. She also bought seats for the Cherry Blossom Festival, dinner at Tersiguel's restaurant in Ellicott City and tickets for several sporting events.
"What's not to like," she said of the evening. "There is incredible food, it's a big social event, you get to see friends and I can watch [Tourism president] Matt Eyre wear a beret."