Dancing for art

Local notables take to the floor in benefit for new center

November 16, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Jim and Lynne LaCalle know what it's like to dance in front of a tough audience.

Whenever their two grandsons, Zachary Weller, 9, and Nathan Weller, 6, come for a visit, the boys act as judges and critique the fancy footwork of their grandparents.

"They watch us very intently," said LaCalle, president of Harford Community College. "When we finish dancing, they rate us, and offer tips. They're giving us 8s and 9s, and recently Zachary said we look younger when we dance."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Sunday's Harford County section on a dance competition that is to raise money for an arts center omitted the names of contestants Will Nori, vice president of Clark Turner Signature Homes, and Betty Ward, a community volunteer.

The informal dancing events at the LaCalle house are practice sessions for an upcoming gala. Called "Dancing for the Arts, Dancing Competition," the event on Nov. 22 kicks off the capital campaign to build a Center for the Arts, a $60 million project.

Based on the television show, Dancing with the Stars, local personalities - with the exception of the LaCalles, who are dancing together - are paired with professional dancers from the Dancing With Friends studio in Bel Air. The professional dancers include Stephen Franzoni, Debbie Howley, Bob Kuzyk, Shara Rzepnicki, and Tom Rzepnicki.

The celebrity dancers include: Stephanie Bradshaw, a wedding and event designer; Audra Caplan, director of the Harford County Public Library; Mary Chance, director of the Harford County Department of Community Services; David Craig, Harford County executive; Claudia Holman, business development director of the APG Federal Credit Union; Jim LaCalle and Lynne LaCalle, associate vice president for Student Development at HCC; Mary Martin, owner of Forest Hill Industrial Airpark, Inc. and Eric McLauchlin, an attorney with Gessner, Snee, Mahoney & Lutche.

Awards will be given to the Judges' Choice and to the top fundraising dance team. Costumes will be worn but are being kept a secret until the competition.

The idea to hold the event came during a discussion about fundraising for the Center for the Arts. Craig suggested it. He said his wife watches the television show, and he thought because of the show's popularity, it might be successful.

"So often, people hold golf outings to raise money," he said. "I thought dancing would be different."

And of course, since it was his idea, Sallee Kunkel Filkins, executive director of the Center for the Arts, asked him to participate. Craig agreed.

Although Craig has no ballroom experience, he said he attended Saturday night dances in Havre de Grace, where he grew up and now lives.

"You had to go to the dance, because that's where the girls were," said Craig, who will be dancing a samba. "So I learned to dance a little bit. I can keep a beat."

With just a few lessons left before the event, Craig has had to overcome a couple of obstacles, he said. Although he only has about 12 to 15 steps to learn, he has learned the steps in isolation, he said. Last week, he danced the steps to music for the first time. But he wasn't too worried about it.

"It's easier to dance with music," he said. "It's easier to figure out where you need to be. Without the music, you have to know where she is while I am doing a certain step."

Like the LaCalles, Craig said he has to practice a lot at home. But unlike the LaCalles, his partner isn't there to practice with.

"This is a choreographed piece," he said. "It's different than ballroom dancing. It's more complicated. It's a show. We each have parts that we can't do with anyone else."

So each night, Craig goes into a room at his home, shuts the door and practices his steps for about 15 minutes, he said.

"I don't let my wife watch me," he said. "She has to be surprised like everyone else."

The LaCalles, who are performing a swing dance, have a distinct disadvantage in the competition because they chose to dance as a couple. Although they took dancing lessons about eight years ago, that hasn't done much to reduce the pressure to perform well at the event, he said.

"If we get out there and make a mistake, we don't have a professional to keep us going," he said. "I'm feeling more pressure about that, so we are practicing every night at home."

They also have learned that every dance has its own challenges, he said. They learned quickly to stretch before and after a dance session, and early on they had to make some minor adjustments.

"Lynne tended to lead, and I followed," he said. "Now when I don't lead, she stops dancing."

Knowing where to put her hands and how to move her hips correctly have been the biggest issues for Caplan. She loves to dance, and she took private lessons from an uncle who was a Broadway dancer in the late 1920s, she said.

"You have to do everything just right," said Caplan, who will be dancing a rumba. "You have to pay attention, and look like you're in love. There is a lot of dipping and turning in our dance."

To practice, Caplan stands in front of a mirror in the dressing room in her home, she said.

"I feel kind of silly, doing dips and turns alone," she said. "It's a lot of work. Even though Tom assures me that I'll be ready, I still have to practice."

To vote for your favorite, go to the www.centerfortheartsharford.org Web site, pay $1 and vote. Or vote at the event. From February through April, Harford Cable will broadcast the competition. Votes can be cast until the end of April, when the People's Choice Award will be bestowed.

To go: Dancing for the Arts will be held Saturday, Nov. 22, from 7 p.m. to midnight at the Residents' Club at Bulle Rock. Black Tie Optional. Tickets are $185 per person. For tickets, call 410-838-2177 or 443-243-7571.

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