On a summer day in 2011, I had just finished lunch in my office at the Statesboro Herald when Laurie Bradford knocked on my door. I had met Laurie several times previously in her role at the Safe Haven women’s shelter, so I figured she was stopping by to give me a story idea or let me know about something to do with Safe Haven.
I was right. Sort of.
Laurie had an idea. The Dancing with the Stars show had been a hit across the country since it went on TV in 2005. I had watched the show a few times, but I wasn’t a big fan … and I had no idea where she was going with this.
Well, she told me that several non-profit organizations across the nation were doing a take-off on the show as a fundraising event and she wanted to start a Dancing with the Statesboro Stars as a fundraiser for Safe Haven.
I immediately said that it sounded like a good idea and we would be happy to write a story and perhaps be a small sponsor.
She had a smile on her face and before I could say anything else, she said that all that would be helpful, but she also had a request – would I be one of the dancing Statesboro stars?
I knew Laurie wasn’t kidding, but that was my first reaction: “You’re kidding, right?”
She said she thought my name recognition from the paper would be helpful for the show and made an effective plea to my vanity. Though, when it came then and comes now to dancing, my vanity doesn’t extend there. I had and have no skill. None.
She explained that I would be paired with a dancer who would be patient and absolutely knew what she was doing. Well, I wanted to help, and some part of me convinced myself that maybe I wouldn’t be so bad if I was held by the hand during the entire process. So, I agreed.
A few days later I met my partner. Juthika Golder is a petite woman of Indian descent. And when I say petite, I mean she is about four foot nine, give or take a centimeter or two.
Juthika explained to me about the dance we would do together. Not surprisingly, it was nothing I had ever heard of. Which, in my mind, was a good thing. (I’ll get back to that later.)
The dance was called the “Chuni Chinari,” based on a traditional dance in India. It started with Juthika dancing on stage by herself for about 15 seconds. Then I would come on stage from the side holding a long red, silk scarf over my head, and “dance” towards her.
But the theme of the dance was for me to stay mostly out of her arms length, teasing her with the scarf as she tried to grab it. Near the end of the dance, I would come closer, twirl her around and, finally, surrender the scarf to her as a symbol of our love.
Sounds like a good plot. And, as I mentioned above, it was a dance that almost no one would have heard of, much less seen. So, if – when – I messed up the steps, no one would be the wiser.
We started practicing and Juthika was patient and very kind with the complete lack of my dancing skill. But we did progress and when it came time for a dress rehearsal, I thought I was as ready as I possibly could be. I was. But everyone else, I thought, was so much better as I watched them perform their dance routines. Juthika calmed my nerves and assured me our rehearsal would go well. It did. While I knew I was a notch below the others, I felt confident I wouldn’t fall on my face on stage, at any rate.
Opening, and thankfully closing, night was upon us. Laurie told me the Averitt Center was sold out and the fundraising had gone even better than they had hoped. That certainly made any humiliation that awaited me on the Emma Kelly Stage worth it.
The first dancers went onstage and performed wonderfully. The audience was enthusiastic and the judges were kind and thoughtful in their remarks after each couple danced. Our Chuni Chinari dance was towards the end and my confidence of falling on my face was almost wiped out immediately.
My dancing outfit was a traditional Indian Sherwani with polo pants and sandals. I never wear sandals. While I had practiced a few times with the sandals on, they never felt comfortable.
So, Juthika does her 15-second solo. As I danced onstage in costume and with the scarf, Statesboro Herald assistant editor Eddie Ledbetter let out the loudest laugh from the audience and I nearly fell out of my sandals while tripping slightly. Fortunately, I was able to regain my balance quickly and performed to the best of my very limited ability.
The crowd seemed to like it. The judges not so much. But I was through it and gave my wife and three sons something they can tease me about the rest of my life and the people I work with at the Herald a good laugh. Also, I helped Safe Have launch Dancing with the Statesboro Stars into their largest fundraiser of the year.
That first year, Safe Haven raised about $12,000. The response, however, was immediate and they had to move to Georgia Southern’s Performing Arts Center the next year. They added a second show at the PAC a few years ago and now raise well more than $100,000 from the event.
Tickets to tonight’s Thursday show sold out immediately, but tickets are available to Sunday’s 3 p.m. show at the PAC. Do yourself and Safe Haven a favor and get tickets to Sunday’s show. You’ll do a good deed and have a great time, as well.
I never will dance before an audience again. But I am grateful to Laurie Bradford for coming into my office that day and convince me to become part of the first class of Statesboro’s dancing “stars.”