It is no secret that I go to a lot of events. Banquets, galas, fundraisers - you name it, I've been to them. Every once in awhile though there is an event that marries an almost perfect balance of sparkle and shine with fundraising and social profit. Every once in awhile there is an event that is special, you see, one that will stand out in my memory. And this year, in 2013, that event was the second annual Dancing With the Stars Wood Buffalo.
If you've been on social media for the last few weeks you've probably seen the Facebook posts and Youtube videos and tweets about this event. Designed to be a fundraiser for the Fort McMurray SPCA it is an evening that sees celebrity dancers perform with their professional dance partners to impress the judges and the crowd. This year I had the opportunity to do a lesson with two of the dancers, and that experience impressed me, too, because I realized how much work goes into this, and the commitment of time and energy these volunteers make to the local SPCA. I also realized the joy in all this, the joy of learning to dance in a way that perhaps you thought was impossible for you. I watch the video of that lesson and what I notice most is my laugh, and my smile. I smiled a lot at DWTSWB on Saturday night too. In fact I think I started smiling as soon as I walked in and saw the decor, and that smile lasted until the very last moments when I snuck away into the night and left the party still going on the dance floor. I even wore a special pair of shoes, ones chosen as an homage to the stars theme:
The decor and planning for this event was done by a local company called Events With Vizability. Now, I have been to events these lovely folks have done before, like the SMS Wine Auction, and I have always been impressed with their staging and atmosphere. This time, though, they completely outdid themselves. When I walked into the ballroom at the Sawridge Hotel, a room I have been in dozens of times before for various reasons, I was blown away. In fact I completely forgot I was at the Sawridge at all, because it was virtually unrecognizable. The rich red that appeared everywhere in the room gave it a luxurious feel, warm and inviting. Paired with the black it made for a sophisticated and elegant setting, and it also happens to be one of my personal favourite colour combinations of all time (you can often find me wearing a combination of red and black, just like I am today). Every single detail from the lamps on the tables to the fringe covering the poles was perfect. In fact I would go so far as to say it was one of the singularly most beautiful events I have ever attended, and if I ever plan a special event personally I know who I will be speaking to in order to make it sparkle.
One of my favourite touches was that on every table at some of the place settings there was a dog leash, one donated by Diversified. Diversified is a tremendous community partner in Fort McMurray, and thanks to them my beloved canine is now sporting a new leash, and one that celebrates a company that recognizes the importance of the SPCA in our community.
Credit for all photos following to
with design and production by
Events With Vizability
One could have been so distracted by the atmosphere and beauty that you forget about the actual core of the event, which was the dancing - and oh, the dancing! I don't know the last time I smiled that much, or laughed so often. I cannot say enough about the dancers, both celebrity and professional, who gave so freely of their time and energy to make this happen. Before the event I had been dubious about the dancing skills of some of the celebrities, but today I will happily admit that I was completely wrong and that these individuals can really, really dance.
The photo above is of Amy and Jamie. I think the look of pure joy on Amy's face is pretty indicative of what kind of evening it was. They were the first dancers - and they set the tone for the rest of the evening, and the rest of the dancers. Their performance was full of energy and joy and life, and the celebratory feel simply set into motion a night where the fun just didn't stop.
What can I say about Sheldon Germain and his gorgeous partner Lela? Sheldon protested a lot before this event that he could not dance, but he was fibbing, people. He can not only dance but he can dance well, and the smile you see on his face in the photo above stayed on his face for their entire "Dirty Dancing" performance. As I said that night on Twitter "nobody puts Sheldon in the corner", and Lela certainly helped to make sure Sheldon will never be in the corner at a dancing event ever again as he will be undoubtedly be sought out as a dance partner.
Ah, Courtney and Andre. What to say about the hottest cop in town and the man who is likely the best dancer in the region? You see Courtney is a local RCMP officer (and it isn't only the red serge she wears well but red fringed dresses, too, as you can see above), and Andre has been dancing his entire life. I had a dance lesson with Andre and within minutes he had me dancing in ways I did not think possible - and again look at the joy on Courtney's face. I think these faces tell it all, in fact. For the dancers this event was a complete labour of love.
Oh, Vanessa and Ben! I admit it. I kinda developed a large girl-crush on Vanessa when I had a dance lesson with her. She is a whole bunch of dynamite in a petite little frame, feisty and funny and so passionate about dance, and life. And of course who doesn't know her partner Ben McCully of K-Rock radio fame? His antics are pretty well known, but who knew he could dance, too? Well, now we know. Ben and Vanessa made it look easy - and fun.
This is Kelli and Scott. I think it is no exaggeration to say I adore Kelli. I met her the first time in a Safeway store when she was clutching a small black kitten that she had just rescued from an uncertain fate. Kelli had helped the kitten be fished out of a dumpster, and she made sure that Oscar, the little garbage can kitten, was safe in the hands of the SPCA. When I learned that Kelli is an instructor at the MI Dance Academy at MacDonald Island Park where I am so honoured to work I almost burst with pride. I had a chance to interview her and I pretty much fell in love with her enthusiasm and passion and just her attitude in life. So, the chance to see her dance with her partner Scott, and see them completely burn up the dance floor with a sassy and funny performance was, for me, pure joy.
The beautiful Helen Arong and her partner John brought sexy to the dance floor. Helen is perhaps one of the most gorgeous women in this community, and despite her nervousness about her dancing ability she was so incredibly lovely to watch. Incidentally I get a lot of my clothing and shoes from her clothing store, Helen Arong Fine Fashion, and her sense of style and glamour was clearly evident while she danced with John. Their performance was, in a word, beautiful. Oh, and really, really hot.
This is Mike and Kira - and yes, he is holding Kira upside down on the dance floor, which shows the level of trust she must have in him. Their performance was the finale of the evening, and it was indeed a showstopper, full of dramatic moves and pure and simple joy. They brought to a close an evening of dance that I think blew away most of the gathered crowd, an evening that celebrated this community and dance and fundraising - and the SPCA.
You see throughout the evening the SPCA was a part of the event. The dancers had all spoken before the event about their pets, and about how they came to have them. Each of the dancers had a reason for devoting their time and energy to this event, and it was all because of the work the SPCA does in this community. Dancing With the Stars was about the dancers and the judges and the music and the decor but in the end the heart of it all was the SPCA, and the work they do every day in this community. The story of the SPCA was interwoven into the fabric of the event, from the extravagant dog house donated, designed and built by Titan General Contracting (and auctioned off during the evening) to the program that explained what the SPCA does, and why.
I suspect it was a tough night for the judges, Kim and Tara and Lynn and Mark and Marty (and just an aside - I have never met Marty Giles but after that evening I now completely understand the radio ads as he is, hands down, the funniest man in the entire city, and had me laughing so hard I cried). But in the end, based on their scores and the audience votes (as there was a tie) the winners were announced - and I was delighted to learn that the person I think of as "my girl" would take home the big trophy:
Yes, Kelli and Scott walked away the winners for the dancing part of the competition, and in fact they were highly ranked in the voting that had gone on both before and during the event, voting that selected the People's Choice Winners. In the end, though, the dancers the people selected as their choice were:
Indeed, Mike and Kira walked away the winners of People's Choice, raising over $20,000 in votes (votes that cost a donation of $20 each). They, and the other dancers, raised over $65,000 in total in the voting process, which brings us to the real winners:
At the end of the night the SPCA had raised $81,000, an amount that will help them to continue to do what they do, work that is both deeply satisfying and heartbreaking (and I know as I worked with animals for a decade and I have seen both the highs and the lows). You see, though, although the SPCA got the funds they needed there are the true winners in all this - and that is this community.
How did we win? We won in every sense. We won by helping one of our social profits continue to do what they do. We won because once again we came together as a community to celebrate and support. We won because we saw dancers and judges who gave freely of their time because of a love of animals - and a love of this place we call home. We won in every possible way, and while there were dancers who proudly walked away with trophies I think the real winners are all of us.
I want to personally thank the SPCA for what they do, work that is on occasion misunderstood or under-valued. I want to thank Events With Vizability for a beautiful event, and for allowing me to participate in it with the dance lessons I experienced, and for the invitation to attend. I want to thank all the dancers who were so committed to this, and I recognize all their hard work. I want to thank the community who supported this, those who came to the event and those who voted from home and those who watched online (over 7000!). I am profoundly grateful to live in a place where these sorts of endeavours are not only supported but supported in a way that guarantees success for everyone.
I am going to provide some links below, to the SPCA and to Events With Vizability and to the Dancing With the Stars Wood Buffalo website (where you can watch video of the event). All I know is this: even now, days later, I continue to find myself smiling at memories of certain moments, like seeing Sheldon's smile as he danced, or Kelli's face when she won. I think this event will live in my memory for a very long time, bathed in a glow of red and black and a warm feeling that comes when you feel the sort of pride that only being part of community like this can bring. This feeling seems to be lasting a very long time, and running through it all is a musical rhythm - and a deep and compelling desire to dance in celebration this place I proudly call home.