Athens County Celebs Put On Dancing Shoes For Red Cross

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Prominent Athens County residents will once again be putting on their dancing shoes to raise funds for the American Red Cross of Southeastern Ohio.

Dancing with the Athens Stars will return to Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville on April 12 and nine local celebrities will be competing with one another to raise funds and be crowned the dancing champion. The locals train with dance professionals to select the perfect music and choreography.

This year’s celebrities include Gay Dalzell, music therapist and singer; Krista Duval, family physician; Tara Gilts, director of development at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital; Rich Hayes, owner of Bedrock Party Rental; Bonnie Lackey, former teacher and librarian for Federal Hocking Schools and Ohio University; Austin Phillips, vice president and general manager of Southeast Beverage Co.; Kate Robey, client services associate at Snider, Fuller and Stroh; Ken Ryan, attorney with Eslocker, Oremus & Ryan Co.; and Aaron Thomas, professional DJ and owner of Class “A” Sounds.

Some of the dancers started practicing their routines back in October. Cindy Oremus, one of the coordinators for the event, said that the Red Cross pays for the first five dance lessons, but the dancers are responsible for paying for additional lessons. She said most dancers have an average of 15 lessons.

The dancers are also responsible for providing their own dancing attire. Oremus said the event requries commitment of both time and finances to participate in the show. But she said they’re willing to support the cause. The event has raised more than $170,000 for local disaster relief in the past four years. The American Red Cross of Southeastern Ohio serves Athens, Vinton, Gallia and Meigs County.

Money is raised in a variety of ways for the event. Tickets for the show are $100 for floor seats, $75 for front balcony seats and $50 for back balcony seats. Each audience member is given one free ballot to vote after the first and second rounds of performances. For $10, audience members can purchase additional votes.

In addition to the audience votes, the general public can purchase votes for their favorite local celebrity prior to the event. Votes can be purchased online at or by calling the Red Cross at 593-5273.

After the first round of dancing, all the audience and general public votes are tallied. The top three advance to the second round. A fourth dancer is selected by the judges during the event to advance to the next round. The four celebrities then dance again for the chance to take home the bragging rights.

On Thursday, Oremus said that 200 tickets had already been sold for the event.

Oremus said the organizers strive to get a variety of dancers for the event each year. She said some volunteer to participate while others take some convincing.

Hayes and Ryan were practicing with their dance partner Jane Tompkins on Thursday at WellWorks. Ryan said he had no prior dance experience, but used to serve as a band director. He said he practices with Tompkins three to four hours a week.

“Jane is an excellent teacher,” he said. “It’s gone well and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Tompkins said she’s enjoyed working with the new dancers each year, but said it wasn’t until the derecho hit the region in 2010 that she realized how important the fundraiser is to support local disaster relief.

Ryan added that the harsh winter resulted in low turnout for blood drives for the Red Cross over the past few months and there have been several fires that have prompted the Red Cross to spring into action.

Hayes said that working on his performance has been a great experience. He said he’s not nervous yet, but expects that he will be on the day of the show. He said he was convinced to participate in the event by his sister-in-law Cindy Hayes, who was the champion of the inaugural Dancing with the Athens Stars. He used the words “crazy” and “freestyle” to describe his dance, but wouldn’t divulge what music he’d be using.

Hayes said he highly recommends that people get involved as dancers in future fundraisers.

“Say ‘Yes’ if you’re asked,” he said.

Doors will open at 6 p.m. on April 12 at Stuart’s Opera House with a cash bar and hors d’oeuvres. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and information, call Joni Hodgson at 707-8004 or Oremus at 591-2827.