A million-dollar hair brained idea

Posted 3/9/22

Remember the West Valley Inn?

Its restaurant and function rooms were a favorite for political fundraising events, award banquets, comedy shows and entertainers.

They offered Italian fare and it …

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A million-dollar hair brained idea


Remember the West Valley Inn?

Its restaurant and function rooms were a favorite for political fundraising events, award banquets, comedy shows and entertainers.

They offered Italian fare and it was good.

But it wasn’t the food that stood out one night in 2007. It was the role I would play in the first edition of the homegrown version of Dancing with the Stars conjured by then executive director of the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership (now Mentor Rhode Island) Arlene McNulty. It was her idea, and I imagined such a show would be a welcomed relief to the dinner/auction headlined by the recognition of a community leader who had become the standard of the time. What better way than to call on people to strut their dance floor prowess in front of friends and family to fund a program mentoring young students? But how would Arlene pull this off?

It wasn’t without risk.

What if the show was a flop? What if people didn’t turn out? What if the dancers froze midway through their routines, which would be embarrassing for them and reflect poorly on the cause? What if people simply thought this was a stupid idea and why on earth would an organization devoted on helping children stage such a thing?
And who would be the guinea pigs to volunteer for such a display? What a hair brained idea.

Of course, we know now it was a brilliant idea that since the first show at the West Valley has raised nearly $1 million for the program. Other organizations sought to mimic what Arlene started with its panel of judges, voting with dollars for your favorite dancer, corporate sponsorships and -- critical to its success -- partnership with a dance studio that works with the dancers. Dancing Feeling has been with Mentor RI from the start.

Arlene is persuasive. She believed in her idea. We could all see that.
She needed dancers and she figured being the chair of the board I should be dancing. So, hence I was paired with Kelly Cannone of the Dance Artistry Studio. I enjoy dancing, but I’m not a good dancer and interpretive dancing is not what makes for a good show.

Fortunately, Kelly selected the theme from the 007 film Goldfinger as our show. More accurately, it was Kelly’s show. My role was the dashing James Bond in a tux with Kelly fawning over me. I wasn’t dashing, but Carol thought the fawning was too much, especially when Kelly lifted a leg over my head and I whisked (dragged) her across the floor on the other. I heard about that for some time afterward.

What I learned and I should have realized from the start is to do anything well takes practice. In my case, it took a lot of practice and a lot of Kelly’s patience. I don’t recall how many dance lessons I had, but my guess is that for the routine of less than three minutes, I put in more than six hours on the dance floor.

The late Peter Koch, whose unwavering commitment to Mentor RI did so much for the organization was the star of that first show.

Dressed as a matador, he taunted his partner with his cape as she swirled seductively. The climax to hysterical cheers came when with one final swing of the cape, Peter fell to the floor and professional dancer Tanya Silvio gracefully collapsed on top of him. Other celebrity dancers that first evening were Lynn Conti, principal of Robertson School and now Superintendent Lynn Dambruch, Cedar Hill principal Steve Kirby, Barbara Morse Silva of Channel 10, Realtor and then chair of the Central RI Chamber Board Robert DeGregorio and Midge McPeak of the RI Mentoring Partnership.

This year, Dancing with the Stars of Mentoring makes an in-person return to Rhodes on the Pawtuxet after going with a taped show shown on multiple screens on a perfect evening at the Aldrich Mansion last year.

This year, the show has another Beacon connection. Former Beacon associate editor Ethan Hartley put on his dancing shoes several years ago and this year former Beacon reporter Jessica Bothelo will be dancing.

The lesson I took away from those awkward moments under the spotlights at West Valley Inn is to listen to hair brained ideas whether they’re yours or somebody else’s…and especially if they’re Arlene’s.

side up, editorial


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