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WVSO's dance benefit aims for fundraising record

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Alicia Elam jokes that she's trained a senator, a governor and a mayor to dance for the annual "Dancing with the Stars" competition.

Now, she's paired with a state legislator for the May 11 dancing competition that raises thousands of dollars for the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

Elam will mambo with Delegate Doug Skaff when 10 novices pair off with 10 dance pros for the fourth annual "Dancing with the Stars," to be held this year at the Charleston Civic Center.

Elam and Steve Prowse are the only two of the original dance instructors who are participating in this year's expanded event.

"It's going to a whole different level," said Patti Carnemolla, who, along with Claudette Rashid and the late Iris Riggs with the West Virginia Symphony League, staged the first dance benefit in 2009. It was a success, with the League making $35,000 for the symphony.

The next two years, "Dancing with the Stars" took in $50,000 and then $60,000. And this year?

The new chairwoman hesitated just a moment. "Eighty thousand dollars is the goal," said Dr. Leela Patel.

She said holding the event at the Civic Center will accommodate more tables in more spacious surroundings. Increasing the number of tables from 60 to 80 should let the community be more involved also, she said.

In the past two years, the event quickly sold out with contestants and their supporters purchasing most of the seats.

For the first time this year, the dance floor will be elevated about two feet so that guests can better view the intricate footwork many of the dances require. There also will be large-screen televisions throughout the room with multiple food stations and bars, Patel said.

Patel danced with the stars two years ago, winning the People's Choice award with Steve Prowse for a sport tango. Last year, Prowse and Josie Moore won the Judges' award with their cha-cha performance.

The cha-cha was also the dance number that Alicia Elam and Mayor Danny Jones executed last year. And she instructed then-Gov. Joe Manchin to cha-cha with his wife, Gayle, for an exhibition dance at the competition.

Elam estimates that she invests 15 to 20 hours a week for three months in preparing her dance partner for the event. Then there are the costumes, the music and other costs.

Dance instructors donate their time, so it's tough, Patel said, to sign them up. Still, her committee has recruited 10 instructors and all have ballroom backgrounds, although several now teach mostly Zumba lessons.

The dance instructors, their partners and dances, are:

Steve Prowse and Susan Collias (samba), Michael Castle and Jennifer DePond (American tango), Melanie Whittington and Steve Dexter (rumba), Martec Washington and Patti Hamilton (cha-cha), Blaire Carney and Dr. Gus Hamrick (the hustle), Dianne Coriell and Dr. Shane Holmes (swing), Andrea Pennington and Coach Kidd (paso doble), Cameron Martin and Erica Mani (street cha-cha), Terry Whittington and Belle Manjong (dance to be determined), and Alicia Elam and Doug Skaff (mambo).

Past performers Jessica Ralston and Jim Strawn will be the masters of ceremony for the benefit.

The Miss Congeniality award will be named in honor of Iris Riggs, according to Patty Fazio, an event co-chairwoman.

The evening begins with registration at 6:30 p.m. on May 11. A reception with heavy hors d'oeuvres and wine will be at 7 p.m.

Individual tickets are $75; tables for 10 for the first three rows range from $1,000 to $1,500. To buy tickets, call Joann Daley at 304-342-0893.

Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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