To say that I was a little out of my comfort zone would be more than an alternative fact. I was so far out of my comfort zone that I might as well have set my watch back a day or two. But everybody kept telling me “Just have fun!” and “It’s for a good cause!” so I took another breath, swallowed my discomfort, and kept on dancing.
Dancing With The Stars is a bi-annual event that supports The Horizon in Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties. For six weeks every summer, kids strengthen their academic skills, develop self-confidence, get some swimming instruction, and learn to become better citizens. With goals like those, a little personal discomfort seemed worth the risk.
The “stars” of the program are just plain-old folks like me with little or no dancing prowess. Fortunately for us, we are partnered with good dancers who know what they’re doing, but—as in my case—not necessarily what they’re getting themselves into. I was lucky enough to have Jennifer Tosten as my partner; she runs Jennifer’s School of Dance on High Street, although she may be thinking twice about that career now. Let’s just say, she had a lot of heavy lifting to do!
I have a fair number of Scottish genes, so I thought it might be fun to indulge my DNA with a little Highland flinging. We picked a tune—Wake Me Up—which was originally a George Michael (Wham!) hit, but our version was a cover of that song performed by The Red Hot Chili Pipers and no, that is not a typo. I thought it might go well with my kilt. When I told my wife about our number, she had one question: “You are going to wear underwear this time…aren’t you?”
Jennifer and I began rehearsing just after Christmas, five weeks before the event took place (on February 4) at The Kent County Community Center in Worton. Ten couples squared off for the coveted trophy—a giant disco ball. A whole host of volunteers worked long hours to transform The Community Center into the legendary Moulin Rouge, Paris’ most renowned cabaret where the can-can first lifted its petticoats and kicked up its heels way back in 1840. What our Scottish number had to do with the Moulin Rouge, I have no idea; I guess I hoped no one would notice or care.
Jen and I had an extra little surprise up on sleeve—or maybe in our sporran. I am a bagpiper so we figured to add a little spice to our routine with a soulful rendition of Amazing Grace before we began reeling and flinging. (We figured at the very least that would wake folks up!) That seemed like a good idea at the time but as the day drew closer, it just added another grace note of anxiety to my performance—as if I needed any more surrounding my dancing debut.
The weeks leading up to the big night flew by. When my body wasn’t spinning, my head was with choreography, step counts, and trying to remember which component came after the one before. I desperately tried to get to a place where I didn’t have to think, a place where my feet, arms, and hands did what I wanted them to do without counting and thinking. I almost made it.
I’ll spare you all the gory details. Let’s just say that we did have fun and that it was for a good cause. Last I heard, we (all the dancing couples) raised more than $53,000 for the Horizon Center, a new record! As for me, I admit I was happy when it was all over and I bet Jennifer was as well. And, with regard to the question that’s on everyone’s mind, let’s just say there were no surprises and everything is still in fine working condition, thank you very much!
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”