GONZALES — If the third annual Dancing for a Cause celebrity ballroom dance-off proved anything Saturday night, it proved the power of the rhinestone collar to overcome military discipline.
Louisiana State Police Trooper Russell Graham, with quite a bit of help from dancing instructor Jewel Reid, manhandled the East Coast swing and won over the judges, winning first place.
Reading from Graham’s biography, master of ceremonies Roy Quezaire said “before Jewel got her hands on him, (Graham) danced like Carlton from ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.’ ”
After lifting, flipping and gliding across the stage to Prince’s “Baby, I’m a Star,” Reid choreographed in a backbend for Graham, using his torso to mime an air-piano.
“You are in it to win it,” Parish Court Judge Marilyn Lambert said. “I’ve been waiting to say that all night. I know you didn’t learn that at the police academy.”
“When he left yesterday, he told me ‘I’m going home to bedazzle my shirt,’ ” said Darlene Denstorff, also a judge and chief of The Advocate’s River Parishes bureau, pointing out that after last year’s performance with St. Amant Fire Chief James LeBlanc, Reid has established herself as a miracle worker in transforming law enforcement-types into performers.
“Stick with that bedazzled shirt the next time you’re on TV,” added judge Czarina Walker.
After the final performance, judges Lambert, Denstorff, Walker, WAFB’s Cheryl Mercedes and technical Judge Linda Schexnaydre from Center Stage Performing Arts Academy went into an extended huddle to decide on the winners. Competition was tight, Denstorff said, and the decision was the closest in the history of the fundraiser.
Mark Dearman, with Rubicon, took the Fan’s Choice Award. Dearman danced the foxtrot with instructor Courtney Black at Saturday night’s event.
Judges said online voting alone, at $1 per vote, raised about $6,000 for Community Opportunities of East Ascension, and more than 1,000 tickets were sold to the event itself.
All proceeds from the event will benefit COEA, The Arc of East Ascension.
Brooke LeBlanc Knight, with LeBlanc’s Food Stores, showed off her flexibility, landing in splits several times during a high-energy cha-cha with instructor LeBrian Patrick. And, she was dancing for two — Quezaire announced just before her dance that she’s expecting her second child in February.
“You smiled even as he was dragging you across the floor,” Denstorff said.
“You two were in sync! That baby got a ride,” Lambert said.
The crowd stood and cheered for Wanda August, dressed as Tina Turner, as she danced a jive to “Proud Mary” by Ike and Tina Turner, with instructor Leonard Augustus sporting bell bottoms and an oversized afro wig that, despite the energy of the routine, never came off.
Her first move on the dance floor was kicking off her high-heeled shoes, to which Denstorff commented, “Tina, Tina, Tina, Tina! When you kicked your shoes off, you won my heart. Every little ribbon in that dress just danced around.”
“Tina didn’t have as much fun on the river as you did tonight,” added Walker.
Kevin Diez, also known as Chef KD, was another crowd favorite when he graced the stage wearing white shrimpers boots for his jitterbug with Beverly Cook.
“You’re dressed like my husband wishes he could dress every day,” said Lambert, commenting on his Cajun attire, complete with hat, jeans, cutoff T-shirt and red bandana tied around his neck.
“It can’t be easy to dance in those boots,” Walker added.
Gus Guiterrez came out sporting a letterman’s jacket, and surprised everyone with a cartwheel during his cha-cha with Mary Bayle.
Scott Banker, with EATEL, and Ryn Jones put on a great show with a country freestyle to “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,” and Marie Broussard played the role of the sassy woman scorned with her dance, wagging her finger at instructor Victor Loveira.
Jodi Loar played a smooth criminal in a dress made by her mother, and danced to the song of the same name by Michael Jackson, with instructor Guillermo Gonzalez.
“All your movements were so exact,” Walker said of the pair.
“And that’s one gorgeous dress,” Lambert added.
For the finale, two COEA clients, Yvonne Ross and Eric Foreman, brought the crowd to their feet as they performed a dance to “Brown-Eyed Girl,” showcasing the talent and promise behind the fundraiser, and were joined onstage by the celebrity dancers.
In addition to the dancing competition and exhibition performances, Irma Thomas wowed the crowd with three selections including her rendition of “At Last,” which was a special request of event organizer Sharon Morris.