Baldwin-Whitehall faculty get in the groove, raise money with popular 'Dancing with the Teachers'

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Mike Voelker, dean of students at Harrison Middle School in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, knows exactly what costume he'll wear when he dances before hundreds of students later this month in a benefit that's a nod to the wildly popular "Dancing with the Stars" television show.

"It will be a dress shirt and tie that are cut up and dirty to make me look as if I've just gotten out of a grave," he described his outfit for a contemporary dance to Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

His partner is Danielle Larkin, a second grade teacher at Paynter Elementary.

The pair will be among seven couples -- each with at least one Paynter teacher or administrator --displaying creative, artistic and dance talents (or the lack of) in "Dancing with the Teachers" at 7:30 p.m. April 30 in the Baldwin High School auditorium.

There will also be performances by youngsters from local dance schools.

Proceeds benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation for children with life-threatening medical conditions.

Mr. Voelker said he is racing against time to transform himself -- a junior varsity football and basketball coach -- into a ballroom "twinkle toes."

Of course, if Steelers Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward can do it on the real "Dancing with the Stars," he figures, why can't he?

"Now I'm really getting into it. My competitive nature is taking over. I tell Danielle, 'We gotta practice,' " he said.

The teacher-dancers and their partners are scored by five judges for one dance. Fifty audience members will also be randomly selected to vote.

Last year's inaugural "Dance" drew almost 900 attendees and raised $3,000 for the Highmark Caring Place for grieving children and their families.

"There are a lot of needs for children and we wanted to do something different," said second grade Paynter teacher and event coordinator Christy Leslie of this year's choice of Make-A-Wish.

"It touches my heart strings knowing what you are doing will make a difference in the life of a child," said principal Darlene DeFilippo of her motivation during twice weekly, 21/2-hour practices with Ralph Wheeler, a Duquesne University professor.

For the pair's eclectic mix of swing and hip hop to Katy Perry's "Firework," Mrs. DeFilippo plans to wear black pants and a red sequined top.

The team of vice-principal Tricia Fusco and physician Randy Peters will wear black outfits with hot pink accents to perform west coast swing, but with a touch of hip hop, to a combination of "Just the Way You Are" by Bruno Mars and "Dynamite" by Taio Cruz.

Dr. Peters, who has had dance lessons, said the biggest challenge is the pair's inexperience.

"It is the first time for me doing choreography, and the first for her for dancing," he said.

"I'm really excited for the kids to see me in a different role outside a disciplinarian," said Mrs. Fusco.

The other dancers are: Melissa Sill, intervention specialist, and Tim Palmer; Christen Ganley, first grade teacher, and Mike Kennelly; Maria Rader, substitute teacher and Frank Blakemore; and Wayne Betz, physical education teacher, and Chelsea Erdner.

The judges are: John D. Wilkinson and Randal Lutz, district administrators; Brittany Youngman, Make-A-Wish; Shari Opferman, Dance Workshop by Shari; and Rozana Sweeney, Art and Style Dance Studios.

The volunteer choreographers and dance instructors are: Sarah and Brad Wheeler, Absolute Ballroom; Christina Liebert and Heather Rosemeier, Dance Workshop by Shari; and Mindy Golvash and Kim Grill, West View Dance.

"It is an amazing collection of people through friendships and networking that has pulled this together," Mrs. Leslie said.

Ms. Larkin said for her performance with Mr. Voelker, the collaboration also includes Paynter music teacher Mike Clancy, and Paynter art teacher Janet Cooley to design their make-up and costumes.

Whitehall Elementary art teacher Kate Krentz is working on props, such as converting a large box into a "coffin" from which the pair will emerge.

Besides the fellowshp, the event brings out the best in students, said Ms. Larkin. She consulted students for song ideas and they came up with monster motif.

"They all knew the songs. And, they will love the show."

Student tickets are $3; adults $5. Tickets can be purchased with cash at the door, or in advance by calling 412-885-7535 or emailing

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer; .


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