It’s that time of year again when some of Lake County’s familiar faces hit the dance floor for Stepping Out for Education.
Locally, it’s more popular than “Dancing with the Stars” because the contestants are familiar. Stepping Out for Education is the Educational Foundation of Lake County’s version of the popular TV show.
This year’s lineup features Nan Cobb, owner of Cobb’s Tractor; Chief Charles Broadway, of the Clermont Police Department; Diane Kornegay, Lake County Schools superintendent; Jim Miller, Grizzard Commercial Real Estate Group; Alise Morris, Ernie Morris Enterprises; and State Rep. Anthony Sabatini.
In its 14th year, Stepping Out for Education is modeled after ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” It will be a two-night event, July 26-27, at Mission Inn Resort & Club in Howey-in-the-Hills.
“The dancers are selected by previous dancers who meet in January to select next year’s stars,” says Carman Cullen-Batt, executive director of the Educational Foundation of Lake County. “Each participant has 20 hours of instruction with a professional ballroom dancer. It takes work to learn the choreography.”
Learning the dances is very physical, according to Carman. She says people always lose weight, and one contestant lost 60 pounds one year. The celebrities dance a fox trot, rumba, cha cha, swing, and tango with the professional dancers.
Audience voting determines the winner of Stepping Out for Education. The voting is certified by Alan Hays, supervisor of elections for Lake County. Last year’s performance netted $100,000, and all the proceeds from this event benefit teachers and students in Lake County schools.
Some of the money is used for students in the ACT prep program the foundation has offered for three years.
“It’s for students who are not going to graduate because they haven’t passed 10th-grade reading assessment,” Carman says. “However, if they score 19 or higher on the ACT, they can graduate.”
Of the 478 students who have participated in the program, 388 graduated.
The professional dancers come from a dance studio in Orlando and Anastasia Ballroom in Leesburg, and Carman is especially proud to have Laura Constantini participate. Laura is a teacher from Orange County and has served as one of the professional dancers for nine years.
Nan says she was surprised to receive the invitation to be a celebrity dancer.
“I’m honored to be chosen with such a wonderful group of people,” she says. “I know it’s going to be exciting, and I’m nervous, but I can’t wait to be there.”
The youngest of the local celebrities is Alise, 25, and the oldest is Jim, who is 70.
Jim was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s leukemic lymphoma (NHLL) in 2006. After chemotherapy treatment, he was declared in remission. Later tests indicated a less aggressive strain of NHLL could come back, and he was told a bone marrow transplant was the answer, providing hope he would live for five more years.
When he saw signs the cancer was coming back, he decided to go to the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach. There, he learned about eating the right foods and focusing on mind, body, and spirit. A longtime board member of the Educational Foundation, he always joked with Carman, saying, “By the time I’m 70, I’ll be young enough to dance.”
“Changing my lifestyle reversed my aging process,” Jim says. “So now it’s time to put up or shut up. I feel like I’m 35, and I’m doing yoga to become more flexible and spry. I’m really looking forward to it. I think I’m going to surprise people being 70.”
He admits he’s facing some tough competition from the younger men.
“Broadway is tall and good looking, and Sabatini is younger. We practice two times a week for 10 weeks,” Jim says. “It’ll be the first time I’m totally making a fool of myself.”
Carman says it’s a fun event that gives the Educational Foundation a large audience to share the foundation’s story. Dr. Wade Winker is this year’s master of ceremonies for the two-night event.
Tickets for Stepping Out for Education are $150, but that includes arriving at 5:30pm for cocktails and then enjoying a seven-course meal, wine and beer bar, and the opportunity to vote for the winner.
Save the date
Stepping Out for education
July 26 & 27
Mission Inn Resort & Club, 10400 County Road 48, Howey-in-the-Hills.
Use the code 101805 and book a room for the night for $132.
Leigh Neely began her writing career with a weekly newspaper in the Florida panhandle, where she not only did the writing, but delivered the papers to the post office and dispensers. She has been writing ever since for a variety of newspapers and magazines from New Jersey to Leesburg. With her writing partner, Jan Powell, Leigh has published two novels as Neely Powell.
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