Debbie West never dreamed she’d be tap dancing across the lobby of her bank, but the branch manager of Farmers Bank downtown has to get all the practice steps she can.
“It’s before the bank opens or after we close,” she clarifies. “It’s just the employees who I know so well who see me. If customers saw me dancing, they’d probably think I was crazy.”
She’s not an eccentric, but West is committed to supporting a good cause, whatever it takes. The banker is one of 10 local celebrities enlisted for Frankfort’s Dancing with the Stars, a benefit for Hope for Tomorrow Children’s Home and Sweet Blessings.
The celebrities and their professional partners from Capital City Dance Studio will take the stage at the Frankfort Convention Center Saturday, Sept. 22.
The event has some stars totally out of their element. West hasn’t put on tap shoes since she was 12 years old. She and her dance partner, Taylor Hackett, will perform a tap number to “You’re the Boss” by Brian Setzer Orchestra.
The grandmother, who laughs at the fact that her dance partner is young enough to be her child, says she laid down a few ground rules: no high heels, no leotards and no one’s getting lifted over anyone’s head.
“I’m too old for that stuff,” she joked.
Other stars plan bolder dance numbers and outfits. Restaurant owner Miguel Nunez and professional dancer Casey Tillett are perfectly paired for a salsa number that’s anything but tame. At a recent practice, Nunez lifted Tillett up and spun her around like a pro.
“The dance is really coming together,” Tillett said. “All the stars are practicing really hard.”
She’s also paired with former Franklin County High School boys basketball coach Scott Chalk, who Tillett says will surprise the audience with his dance moves.
“All I can say is the dance ends a little surprising, something you wouldn’t think a basketball coach would do,” Tillett hinted.
The night has several surprises, including dances by the professionals, a harmonica solo by one of the stars, a fun-loving contestant in lime green parachute pants and a certain judge dancing barefoot. This is Kentucky, after all.
During the evening, a people’s choice award will be handed to the star who garners the most votes – people can vote online until midnight Sept. 21 or at the event – and a panel of judges will choose the best performance. (Celebrity Libby McManis is ahead in online voting with 265 votes.)
For people who simply want to catch the show, which starts at 7 p.m., admission is $20. For those who want to give more, an elegant dinner, dancing lessons and the show is $800 for a table of eight.
Tillett says the stars and professionals are excited to be paired for the dances, but the most exciting pairing is Hope for Tomorrow and Sweet Blessings, two organizations that have helped hundreds of kids in need.
“The thought of how much money we can raise for these organizations, that’s the exciting part,” Tillett said. “That’s where the energy is.”
Sweet Blessings, a nonprofit that makes specialty cakes for sick and underprivileged children, and Hope for Tomorrow, a children’s home in Guatemala, were both founded by Frankfort natives.
Sweet Blessings founder Ashley Boyd-Gann and Hope for Tomorrow founder Jennifer Grisham-Brown said they decided to pool their resources for one major event.
“We’d like to raise $100,000,” Grisham-Brown said, mostly joking, but partly hoping the event can raise more than she imagines.
Kenneth Sese, who runs the children’s home in Guatemala with his wife, Diana, says fundraising is the hardest part of his job, and the need for genuine, loving care for orphaned children in Guatemala is greater than ever.
International adoptions have been closed, and there is no culture of adoption within the country, which leaves many children with no hope.
His home currently cares for 17 children.
“All that we do comes from donations, through sponsorship,” Sese said. “The vision is not to give them just the bare minimum, but to give them every opportunity they deserve, opportunities we would give our kids.”
Sweet Blessings faces the same need for funds, Boyd-Gann says. The young organization has the goal of delivering 500 cakes this year, and Boyd-Gann expects a higher number next year.
“There are so many children in need of that emotional touch that comes from a Sweet Blessings cake,” she said, adding that her team of nearly 100 volunteers serves eight Kentucky counties.
They have a kitchen in Lexington and one in Frankfort, but with more resources could touch many more kids, she said.
It’s only for such worthy organizations that West would dust off her tap shoes, she says, explaining that she actually had to buy new tap shoes given that her last pair belonged to her 12-year-old self.
“I’m a little stressed for the simple fact that it’s been such a long time and all these people are going to be watching,” West said. “But I’m loving it.”
FRANKFORT DANCING WITH THE STARS
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22
Where: Frankfort Convention Center
General admission: $20 per ticket. Reserve online at hope4tomorrow.net/dancingwiththestars/
Sponsorship table: $800 per table (Seats eight people and includes premium seating, a dance lesson, wine, appetizers dinner and dessert). Contact Karen DiRaimo at firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations.
To vote: hope4tomorrow.net/dancingwiththestars/
MEET THE CAST
Local celebrities are paired with professionals from Capital City Dance Studio.
>Scott Chalk and Casey Tillett
>David Harrod and Whitney Waldner Thomas
>Bryan Hix and Krissie Hogan
>Kathy Mangeot and Jonathan Hockensmith
>Libby McManis and Christopher Atwood
>Miguel Nunez and Casey Tillett
>JT O’Connell and Laykin Tucker
>Christine Richards and Christopher Atwood
>Kyle Thompson and Emily Goodwin
>Debbie West and Taylor Hackett