it was real-life “Saturday Night Fever” at the Civic Center as eight local dancers competed for the right to call themselves Iberville Parish’s best dancer.
The dance champion, as selected by the panel of judges, was Alana Adams of Level Homes, and the People's Choice selection was Jude Barker of Barker Brothers Plumbing.
Iberville Chamber of Commerce’s “Dancing With the Stars,” the organization’s biggest and most challenging fundraiser, has grown each year since its inception four years ago.
Chamber Executive Director Hank Grace explained how the event was conceived.
“We were sitting in the Chamber office, my staff and I, trying to think of an event that would do two things,” he said. “One was to raise some money for the Chamber but the other was to host an event that would bring all of Iberville Parish together.”
The group kicked around several ideas before settling on the dancing competition.
“We finally decided to do a ‘Dancing With the Stars’ event,” Grace said. “We knew it was successful in Ascension Parish and we knew it was successful in Baton Rouge but we didn’t know if it would be successful in Iberville Parish.”
“Just because something is successful in one parish doesn’t mean it’s going to be successful in another parish,” he continued, but the results have proven its success here.
“We were fairly successful the first year, the second year it got bigger and the third year even bigger and this year is going to be the biggest ever,” Grace said.
During dress rehearsal last Friday for the Saturday night event, he said he was expecting 575 people to be in attendance on the floor of the Civic Center and another 100 or so in the balcony.
“We’re super excited that it’s grown to be the event that it has,” Grace said. “It’s the talk of the parish now.”
He said the Chamber of Commerce puts a lot of effort into getting people from all parts of the parish involved and has had competitors from the north end of the parish, from east Iberville, White Castle and Plaquemine.
“We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve gotten the kind of participation that we have throughout the parish,” Grace said. “But the accomplishment that I’m proudest of is that it’s brought Iberville Parish together.”
“It’s gotten everybody together for an event that everybody just raves about,” he continued. “The excitement it creates, the entertainment that it provides – it’s just a wonderful event that I couldn’t be more happy that it’s turned out the way that it has.”
A complicated and costly event, Dancing With the Stars couldn’t be done without the assistance and direction of Kayla LeJeune Messina, the owner of dancExpression, a Plaquemine dance academy.
“She just been phenomenal helping us put this event together,” Grace said. “She takes the time to coordinate all the dances, she coordinates all the dances – she’s a godsend for us.”
In addition to the winners, the competition included Taylor Best of Dow Chemical, Troy Doiron from the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office, Mike Hebert of the Iberville Parish School Board, Delania LeBlanc of Parkview Baptist Preschool, Juli Maniscalco of Hargrove Engineers and Constructors and Principal Jeanne’ Medine of Iberville Elementary, the parish’s Montessori method school.
There were also four professional dancers involved in the program – Shamira Cummings-Arita, Joshua Sanchez, Emanuel Washington and Messina.
“They will all tell you its not easy but I can tell you after it’s over, every single one will say they’d like to do it again,” Grace said. “That’s how much they enjoy it. That’s how much fun they had.”
Two competitors – Best and Medine – would agree with the challenging aspect of the event.
“I could use many more practices but we’ve run out of time,” Medine said. Rehearsals were held twice a week since June and Medine even had the assistance of a niece who tagged along to all the rehearsals and then practiced with her aunt at home.
The school principal originally thought when she was approached about participating said her “first reaction was, ‘No, I’m not going get up in front of people and dance.’ I have no rhythm and I don’t dance.”
The problem for Medine, though, was the theme of her “Principal’s Principles,” her daily announcement series. The week she was invited to compete had the theme “Courage.”
“I always start my day with my announcements and the character trait of the week was courage,” she said. “So I was talking every morning on the importance of courage, the courage to do new things, the courage to step out of your comfort zone.”
“So, I got to thinking, ‘I can’t very well talk to my students about having courage and then say, ‘No, I’m not getting in front of bunch of people to dance,’” Medine said. “That would be a little bit hypocritical, so that’s why I said yes.”
Best, who works in Dow’s Emergency Services and Security department, said his company’s Chamber representative, Christina Cedotal, asked him to take part in Dancing With the Stars.
“She asked me to do it and I said no,” he said. “So she asked me to think about it a little while and I told her to give me a week.”
In the meantime, Best talked to Justin Mendoza, last year’s winner.
“He said it was a great experience,” Best said. “He said they had a great time so I thought about it and decided, why not. You only live once.”
“My experience with dancing is going to a wedding and when a band plays a slow song, my wife and I dance once or twice and that’s it,” he continued. “So this is totally different from anything I’ve ever done.”
Best said the night before the competition he wasn’t very nervous and credited his partner, Cummings-Arita, with giving him confidence.
“I’ve got a good partner and she’s taught me a lot and if I didn’t have a good partner, I think I’d be a little more nervous about it,” he said.
“I feel pretty confident going into it,” Best continued. “I’m not going to say I’m going to win it but I’m not going to make a big fool of myself on stage.”
Judging the event were Sheriff Brett Stassi, Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso, Jill Joffriono-Edenfield, Jeoffery Harris Jr. and Pam Mechana.
The event is sponsored by Dow Chemical, Plaquemine Truck Stop, Hargrove Engineering and Constructors, Shintech, Eatel, dancExpression, DJ Koolaid, or Troy Doiron as he’s called when he’s not spinning records, Baton Rouge Coca-Cola, Daigle’s Supermarkent, DejaVu Daiquiris, Guzzardo Photography and Bobby Searcy of Plush Beauty.