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CWI’s Dancing with the Stars a big hit!

Oh what a night! Gutsy local amateurs put on a show

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

CWI’s sold-out Dancing with the Adirondack Stars 55th anniversary celebration on Saturday night, April 7, at the Wood Theater was a huge hit.

It was a night of a million feel-good stories, from the impressive talents of the professional and amateur dancing pairs to the CWI client performances that garnered warm standing ovations, to the heartfelt video presentation on what CWI is about — just, wow. The buzz was through the roof.

CWI — Community, Work and Independence, Inc. — serves developmentally disabled adults around our region.

Returns aren’t final, but CWI executive director Mark Donahue tells The Chronicle their local version of DWTS raised more than $25,000.

Meanwhile, what it did in terms of creating positive “vibes” and community outreach is inestimable.

Kudos to Mr. Donahue, who saw something similar done in Rutland and decided, “We can do this here.” He also donned a white shirt, dark vest, blue tie, hat and dancing shoes to take the plunge as one of the evening’s amateur “celebrity” dancers.

And Gail Hamel of Lake George, paired with professional Timothy Sherman, took first-place in the wildly successful fund-raiser for CWI on April 7 at the Wood Theater. Chronicle photo/Cathy DeDe

The show is, of course, modeled on the popular television show, pairing locally known personalities with professional dancers to compete for what was billed as “the coveted Mirror Ball” — an impressive-looking trophy, it turns out.

Details like that, they got it all right.

Mr. Donahue was all nerves on stage but he went for it, soul and body, best of his abilities, including a couple of fancy leaps, hamming it up as a sleepy fellow who is roused to dance to a medley of songs from the 50s to the 80s, by a charming Lisa Camp, of the Glens Falls Y — she pure muscle and energy in a crinolined polka dot dress and tennis shoes.

Emcees Chuck Aiken and Amy Macy (themselves a winning pro-amateur combination) were charming, funny, impressive, Ms. Macy in a navy blue sequinned dress and bright blue “wow” stilettos.

The format was brisk and classy: Introduce each couple with a video that showed them training, maybe fumbling some and laughing, sweating it out while sharing their thoughts on why they signed on, for themselves and for CWI.

Afterwards, the panel of three judges — Candice Frye of the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council, Kate Austin-Avon of Advokate (and a Chronicle columnist), and David Kaiser of Glens Falls National Bank — commented on the performances, kindly, mixing snappy cracks and supportive encouragement.

The emcees also gave each of the pros opportunity to comment on how their “student” dancers did, asked the amateurs how it felt, and interviewed friends in the audience about each dance we’d just seen.

They kept it at just five pairs, plenty enough, plus a couple of interludes, songs performed by CWI clients Christine Lorne, Mary Ann Miller and Grant Leonelli, much to the emotional thrill of performers and audience alike.

Major Jim LaFarr of the Warren County Sheriff’s office was among the most comfortable of the amateur dancers, performing with natural grace alongside Deanna Krug of Arthur Murray Dance in Saratoga.

Mr. LaFarr said that growing up, he considered being a dancer. True or not, a credible story, given his fancy footwork here in a clever piece that started with him and pro partner at old-style desks waiting for the school bell to ring. He commented that “chasing bad guys was easier than this.”

DJ and radio personality Michael Dubray clearly had worked hard to get his routine down. What a pleasure to see him, maybe a little shaky, but nailing the choreography. Big heart, that guy. All on his sleeve here.

His partner Janice Garong from the Arthur Murray Dance Studio was all pro. She put together a fun routine that showed her impressive chops and gave him room to glow as well. “I’m so proud of him,” she said afterwards, echoing a prevailing sentiment of the night.

Duane Vaughn, the Tri-County United Way executive director, also put on the smooth moves, good spins and twists, dapper in a simple shirt and pants, his short sleeves showing off impressive biceps and tattoos that even the judges commented on. Who knew?

From the audience afterwards, one dancer’s wife noted she hadn’t seen any of his moves beforehand, but she was planning on him bringing a certain “body roll” the next time they’re out dancing.

That’s a thing: Now he can!

Imagine something so many of us are nervous to do in public — and here they were, without even the cover of a busy dance floor or a cocktail, playing it out with heart and vigor for 300 people.

Mr. Vaughn’s partner Allie Bullard of the Dance Center of Queensbury is a young dancer I’ve had my eye on for years, for the style she brings to the floor in their Nutcracker and other shows.

Her father, interviewed by Ms. Macy afterward Allie danced, shared with pride and no little emotion that she’d overcome major back surgery to be there — just the kind of triumph you can’t make up.

Gail Hamel, owner of Hamel Resources, and her partner Timothy Sherman of CM Fine Arts School in Clifton Park took home the judges’ Mirror Ball.

Winners, all — Tim Sherman and Gail Hamel receive the Mirror Ball Trophy awarded by the judges. Behind them, James LaFarr who won the People’s Choice Award; singer Mary Ann Miller, who drew one of several standing ovations; Maj. LaFarr’s professional dance partner Deanna Krug; CWI director and amateur dance contestant Mark Donahue; Mr. Donahue’s pro partner Lisa Camp; and professional guest emcee Chuck Aiken, who did it to a “T” alongside co-emcee, CWI Human Resources director Amy Macy. Chronicle photo/Cathy DeDe

Well earned. As the one female amateur, she did it all backwards and in heels, to steal the old Ginger Rogers line. Ms. Hamel was swift, confident, swirling and enduring lifts in their fast-paced number, all in a swank short black fringed dress and fishnets. Mr. Sherman’s father had come all the way from Ohio to see him dance.

The dances were theatrical and fun, across the board. I cried pretty much for everyone.

What guts it took to get up there and do something so public, when each started out, maybe not so good at it. Yow! I admire the time and actual hard work they put in, the brilliance on stage and behind the scenes. Just more evidence: We live in the best community ever.

The gala marked CWI’s 55th anniversary — reason to celebrate, and with flair.

Mr. Donahue says they are already considering whether to do it again next year.

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