Sgt. Gary Johnson, 47, spent the past 28 years chasing suspects who ran afoul of the law. Come March 14, he’ll join seven other local celebrities on the dance floor to raise money to help 1,500 youths find success.
He’s a contestant in the sixth annual Dancing for Future Stars, which last year raised $300,000 to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Gaston.
The organization provides after-school and summer enrichment programs for 1,500 youths at three sites “who need us most,” said development and impact associate Tristen Williams.
“Without funding from Dancing for Future Stars, we would not be able to sustain such growth and serve so many kids in need,” Williams said.
Before the annual dance event, about 700 children were served at the West Gastonia, Bessemer City and Bradley Teen Center clubs. That number has more than doubled thanks to the fundraiser and daily attendance has increased 126 percent, she said.
Johnson’s interest in helping disadvantaged youths led him to the ballroom floor, he said, even though he’d never had a dance lesson until signing on as a competitor.
“They need for someone to pay attention to them and do something to help them find the way to a good life,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who is teamed with professional dance instructor Tatiana Kazakova at Charlotte’s Metropolitan Ballroom studio, will perform cha-cha and jive routines in the competition at the Gaston Country Club.
He discovered after signing on as a competitor last November that dancing is hard work as well as fun.
The first month, Johnson invested two hours driving to and from Metropolitan Ballroom to spend an hour learning dance steps and ballroom techniques. Since December, twice a week rehearsals have consumed at least six hours a week.
He said he’ll follow Kazakova’s advice to include a lot of hip action in the cha-cha routine. But, unlike the professional male dancers on the “Dancing with the Stars” TV show, he won’t bare his chest for the audience.
Fellow members of the police department at first razzed Johnson about becoming a dancer, he said, but soon rallied to his support.
Other competitors and their employers are: Rebekah Boyd, Charlotte’s Studio 19 Salon; Bob Clay, Coldwell Banker Commercial MECA, Belmont; Madeline Keeter, CaroMont Health, Gastonia; Trey Pruitt, Digitrol Inc., Gastonia; Pam Russell, Studio Elite, Cramerton; Hoppy Sell, Spectrum Consultants, Gastonia; and Mary Catherine Walker, WIX Filtration, Gastonia.
Boys and Girls Clubs Chief Operating Officer Anna Furr said contestants set individual fundraising goals, but will be judged in two categories. The Grand Champion winner is chosen based on money raised, she said, while the dance champion will be the competitor with the best dance scores given by a three-judge panel.
Walker, 35, a past president of the Junior League of Gaston County, became interested in joining the competition because a league member is this year’s chairwoman.
She’s loved to dance since she was young, she said, learned to shag (South Carolina’s state dance) in her teens, but never had any formal ballroom training.
“I just thought, ‘Oh gosh, wouldn’t it be great to be a part of this,’” she said.
She and professional partner Clement Joly will perform a slow waltz to Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song,” and a freestyle routine that combines steps from the Lindy Hop, swing and Charleston to “Booty Swing.”
Clay, at age 68, joked that he is “the senior practitioner in this crowd. But I’m going to wear them out.”
He was born in Mississippi and grew up in Michigan, but didn’t learn how to the shag until relocating to North Carolina 30 years ago. He never had formal training but has always enjoyed dancing.
He said he’d been invited to become part of the annual fundraising event for several years, but lacked the time. He signed on this year because, like Johnson, he knew it was “a big, big deal for the clubs. These children need a leg up,” he said.
Clay, also partnered with Kazakova, will perform quick step and country two-step routines.
Dave Baity is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for him? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to go?
Dancing for Future Stars will be held March 14 at the Gaston Country Club, 3700 Country Club Drive, Gastonia. The event begins with a 6 p.m. hors d’oeuvres and drinks course, followed by the dance competition at 7 p.m.
Tax-deductible tickets are $150 per person for general seating and $200 for reserved seats. To purchase tickets or make a donation, go to www.bgcgreatergaston.org or call 704-864-6171.