Shall We Dance?

Donna Lane
Peoples' Choice Winner Alex Brown
Issue Date: 
May, 2018
Article Body: 

Oh what a night it was! Bright lights, flashy costumes, six nervous Norwood residents paired with six professional dancers performing to a raucous, capacity crowd – all to support the 10th Annual Dancing with the Norwood Stars event held at the Four Points by Sheraton.
“They said it wouldn’t work … that no-one would come … and here we are, 10 years later in a ballroom that is filled to capacity; and it’s one of our biggest fundraisers,” Kathy St. Cyr, chairman of the Norwood Circle of Hope’s board of directors, who was presented with a plaque at the end of the evening that read: We all said it couldn’t be done!
With NPA cameras rolling and broadcasting to several satellite sites, six Norwood residents, Alex Brown, Ricky McGowan, Erin Joyce, MaryAnn Gaetani, Jeff Mulroy and Brad Thornton, paired with six professional dancers from Savaria Dance Studio in Norwood, stood ready to dance for their community and the Circle of Hope.
The Norwood Circle of Hope Foundation was established in 1998 in memory of Michelle Kennedy who suffered with Leukemia. During Michelle’s illness, the Norwood community, many of whom did not even know her, joined to support their fellow resident. She told her mother that someday she wanted to find a way to give back to others in need the way the Norwood community had given to her. The Circle of Hope is fulfilling her wish.
The Foundation is run by volunteers and all funds are used to support its efforts. Since its founding, the Circle of Hope has assisted 200 needy Norwood families to the tune of over $700,000. Over several months, while they practiced their routines, each of the dancers raised money for the Foundation in various ways. Combined, this year's contestents raised $185,000, a record, according to Norwood Circle of Hope President Tim McDonough. He stated that this event has raised $900,000 over the past 10 years.
MaryAnn Gaetani, an inclusion specialist at the Willett Early Childhood Center, grew up next door to Michelle Kennedy. She lost her sister to pancreatic cancer a year after Michelle’s death. She is dedicated to the Circle of Hope’s cause and participated in the fundraiser, despite being “far out of her comfort zone,” as a way to keep Michelle’s dream and her sister’s memory alive. Gaetani was paired with Lewis Inman, a ballroom and line dance expert, and performed her dance with grace and elegance.
Ricky McGowan, a Norwood police officer and 2007 graduate of Norwood High School (NHS), was paired with Sasha Dubinsky. McGowan said he practiced over 50 hours for the competition.
“I added some more moves to my repertoire,” McGowan joked.
He and Dubinsky danced to the peppy beat of “Old Time Rock and Roll” wearing oversized shirts a la Tom Cruise. The dance included a lift, which, to his great relief, McGowan managed to execute without dropping his partner.
Brad Thornton, graduate of NHS Class of ’92 and the third generation of Thornton’s born in Norwood Hospital, was paired with ballroom dance instructor Kendall Sealey. Thornton has met people who have been helped by the Circle of Hope and said he has been humbled by the process.
“I’m grateful I’ve been healthy enough that I could help people,” Thornton said.
Alex Brown, winner of the People’s Choice award, and her partner, acclaimed Latin dancer Tomas Vasicek, brought down the house as they danced to a mix of Michael Jackson tunes – “Thriller,” “Billie Jean,” “Smooth Criminal,” and “Bad.” Brown lit up the dance floor as she moon-walked in her red-beaded flapper dress. Little black-caped goblins joined the couple on the dance floor to the delight of the crowd.
Brown’s performance was especially inspiring considering it wasn’t that many years ago, following an accident, she was told she may never walk again.
Erin Joyce is a graduate of NHS Class of ’93, and a registered nurse who works at Norwood Hospital in its fast paced emergency room. Also paired with Vasicek, Joyce danced to the pulsing beat of the cha cha in her shimmering silver dress.
Judges Choice winner Jeff Mulroy refused to be upstaged by anyone. The ’95 NHS graduate was partnered with competitive Russian dancer Vitalija Tyrnova. The two shimmied and shook to a samba complete with a costume change during the dance. Mulroy received a perfect score from the judges for his animated performance.
Judges for the evening were Jack McCarthy, a 10 year veteran judge, former contestant Angela Malvone, first-time judge Victor Babel, and professional dancer Nina Di Perrio.
McCarthy is the executive director of the Massachusetts School Building Authority and a familiar face to those who watch the local cable channel. He has been a judge for every event.
“It’s amazing how the dancing has improved over the years," McCarthy said. "The quality is unbelievable.”
He is especially pleased that 100 percent of the money raised by the Circle of Hope stays in Norwood and goes to local people in need.
“We’re not only raising money, people are having a good time," co-host McDonough said. "Early on, dancers sometimes had to be coaxed to participate. Today, people are coming to us asking to dance.”
McDonough is an active Norwood resident and has been involved in politics and many community committees.
“This is by far the most gratifying group I’ve even been involved with!" McDonough exclaimed. "We hope to be doing this for at least another 10 years.”
George Usevich, former principal of NHS, has also co-hosted all 10 events.
“I’m honored to be asked every year … it’s a thrill and a very special night,: Usevich said. "We have a lot of fun together.”
And it was fun. And loud. And poignant.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart," Norwood Circle of Hope Foundation Clerk Lee Kennedy tearfully remarked. "I’ve kept the promise to my daughter Michelle to help others. I know Michelle is looking over us.”
Donna Lane is a Norwood-based writer, lecturer and designer. You can reach her at [email protected].