Dance teams ready to compete

PARKERSBURG – Teams featuring a local “celebrity” and a local “professional” have been rehearsing for weeks to prepare for the “A Night of Dancing with the Stars” on Saturday at the Parkersburg Art Center.

The event is a fundraiser for the Actors Guild of Parkersburg and will be held across the street at the art center at Eighth and Market streets, with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and the dancing kicking off at 7 p.m.

Admission is $25 for singles and $40 for couples. The event will feature an open dance floor, exhibition dancing and live music by The Onion Brothers Band. Tickets are available online at www.actorsguildonline.org and will be available at the door.

This year’s celebrities and dance partners are:

* Dr. Robert Akers (celebrity) and Kristin Mitchem (partner)

* Sharon Callow (celebrity) and Michael Ream (partner)

* Sharon Kesselring (celebrity) and Bryan Ream (partner)

* Mark Lanyon (celebrity) and Heather Allen (partner)

* Lisa Starcher-Collins (celebrity) and Dr. Bob Heflin (partner)

* Todd Stubbe (celebrity) and Morgan Smith (partner)

* David Wells (celebrity) and Michelle Lynch-Bowling (partner)

More information about each celebrity and partner is available online at www.actorsguildonline.org. People also can vote by donation for their favorite celebrity or partner at the same website.

Patrons may donate to their favorite celebrities on the night of the event and the final champions will be crowned through a combined total of their donations and the judges’ scores, said event organizer Robin White. A “People’s Choice” award and “Judges Choice” award will be awarded during the event.

All proceeds will go to benefit the continued efforts of the Actors Guild of Parkersburg as it strives to bring quality, live theatrical entertainment to the community, White said.

White said the Guild thrives because of the support of the community.

‘”A Night of Dancing With the Stars’ is an opportunity to utilize the talents of some of our community members to help raise money for the Guild,” he said. “Area ‘celebrities’ from the community have graciously agreed to help us do this while having a little fun in the process. We have paired up our celebrities with some of the area’s best dancers and choreographers (many of whom are already celebrities in their own right) to perform exciting routines that will bring the crowd to their feet,” he said.

Kesselring, development director with the American Red Cross, said she had no previous dance experience – “other than dancing with my husband” – when she was asked to participate in this year’s event. With her partner, Bryan Ream, the duo will be presenting the paso doble, a Spanish couples dance which means “two-step.”

The pair have been rehearsing two to three times a week in preparation for Saturday’s competition.

“It has been a true learning experience, but he’s made it an awful lot of fun,” Kesselring said of her dance partner.

“I know we have worked awfully hard for it and I know all of the couples have,” she said.

Kesselring said she has faithfully attended the dance competition for the past two years- as an audience member – and has enjoyed the experience.

“It’s an awfully fun evening and my husband and I have so enjoyed it,” she said.

Kesselring is joined this year as one of the competing celebrities by her boss, American Red Cross chapter Executive Director Sharon Callow, who is teaming up with Michael Ream, Bryan’s son.

Kesselring said the heavy Red Cross involvement in this year’s competition is a way to thank the Guild for its support last fall. As part of the Guild’s production of “Dracula,” the Guild provided show tickets for the Red Cross to sell as a fundraiser for the agency.

“This is a way for us to pay back to the Guild for everything they did for us; we’re helping them with this fundraiser,” she said.

Collins and Heflin were at the art center on Tuesday to continue rehearsing their competition dance, the quick-step.

Heflin is returning for his third year as one of the professional partners in the competition, having been named winner the first two years with two different partners. His partner in winning last year’s competition, Michelle Lynch-Bowling, has returned as one of this year’s professionals to dance with local celebrity and musician David Wells.

“It’s a great time and a fun evening,” Heflin said, adding the event has been a successful fundraiser for the Guild over the past two years.

After agreeing to participate this year – after turning down invitations the past two years- Collins said she discovered a competitive streak within herself that has surprised her. Despite a lack of dance experience, she has enjoyed the rehearsals with Heflin and said it’s been great exercise.

“Fifty percent of your score is how much money you raise and 50 percent is how you dance. I was pretty sure I couldn’t win on my dancing so I decided I was going to win on my fundraising and I’ve gotten a little carried away,” Collins said.

Those fundraising efforts have included frequent posts on Facebook and a billboard on Grand Central Avenue featuring photos of her and Heflin, along with some radio spots. Collins said she did turn down an offer to fly a banner behind a plane over Parkersburg as being a bit too much.

“We’re taking this fundraising very seriously,” she said with a laugh.