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A new spin on a familiar fundraiser

Richville Mayor Terry Lee and his dancing partner Karlie Hoekstra, Perham teacher Bob Tangen and dancer Dani Nelson, and Perham Mayor Tim Meehl and his rehearsal partner for the day, Deb Werner, strike a pose at the end of their Fox Trot routine at a rehearsal at the Promenade Ballroom last weekend. Lee, Tangen and Meehl are three of six local ‘celebrities’ to take part in “Dancing With the Stars” this Saturday. Marie Nitke/FOCUS

Some well-known local personalities will be getting out of their comfort zones – and getting into their dancing shoes – for an East Otter Tail County version of “Dancing With the Stars.”

Though most of them have little to no prior dancing experience, these brave souls have agreed to hit the stage as part of this ‘contest for a cause.’ A localized variation of the popular ABC TV series of the same name, “Dancing With the Stars” will serve not only as good entertainment for Otter Tail audiences, but also as a fundraiser for Relay for Life.

The six ‘celebrities’ involved are all easily recognizable community leaders from around the Perham area. They include Perham Mayor Tim Meehl, Richville Mayor Terry Lee, Dent Mayor Perry Coleman, Perham City Manager Kelcey Klemm and Miss Perham Leah Wuebben.

Paired up with experienced dancers from around the area, these unseasoned stars have been rehearsing for the last couple weeks in preparation for the show. They’ll get the chance to strut their stuff this Saturday, at the Perham High School auditorium starting at 7:30 p.m.

“There’ll be some twists and some turns in there, and we’ll find out if I’ve got two left feet or not,” said a slightly skeptical but good-natured Terry Lee with a smile during a practice at Promenade Ballroom last weekend.

Before this, Terry hadn’t had dance lessons since junior high school, and when asked if he’ll be nervous the night of the competition, he didn’t hesitate to say, “That’s a given.”

Yet he’s learned a lot in a short amount of time, and was feeling confident that he and his partner, Karlie Hoekstra, would have their routines down by show time.

They, like all the couples, will dance a Fox Trot with the whole group, and then perform their own unique rumba.

Audience members will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite pair – as many times as they want – by putting dollar bills into different jars that represent each couple. The couple with the most dollars in their jar will win the “Audience Choice” award. There will also be a judge’s panel, which will determine a “Judge’s Choice” award.

But for those involved, it’s not so much about winning an award as it is about raising money for a good cause. Every vote cast is a dollar donated to the East Otter Tail Relay for Life, an annual event that raises money to help find a cure for cancer. This year’s relay will take place in Perham on the evening of Friday, July 12.

It’s a cause that hits home for the vast majority of people, who have either been directly impacted by cancer or know someone who has.

Tim Meehl counts himself among those who have been personally affected. Trying his best not to get emotional while being interviewed last Saturday, he explained why he agreed to be a part of “Dancing With the Stars.”

“My mom was diagnosed with cancer a couple of months ago,” he said, “and doesn’t have a lot of time left.”

Dancing in this event gives him a chance to make a meaningful contribution to the cause. It also gives him a chance to spend some quality time with his daughter, Kelli, who’s his dance partner.

The two have worked on their routines a few times, and Tim has taken some dance lessons in the past, but he admitted that ballroom dancing “is harder than I thought it was going to be.”

That’s a sentiment shared with the other dancers – even some of the well-trained ones.

Both Karlie Hoekstra and Dani Nelson, who were at the rehearsal on Saturday, said that the dances they’re learning for this show are very different from any dancing they’ve done before.

Dani has danced with the Academy of Classical Ballet for nine years, and Karlie is now the Director of the Hawley, Minn., Just For Kix, following years of dance lessons.

The other trained dancers partnering up with ‘celebrities’ for the show are Samantha Byer, Mollee Byer and Chris Knutson.

Although there’s a lot to learn, they’ve got a good teacher in Paul Mathieu, owner of The Promenade Ballroom in Perham. Initially approached to take part as a dancer, Paul instead opted to volunteer as the instructor for the group.

And so far, he said, “They’re doing excellent.”

“There’s been no blood, so I’m very excited,” he added with a laugh.

He and the other “Dancing With the Stars” participants say they’re having a good time with it – and the event has already been generating some buzz out in the community.

Bob Tangen said people have been stopping him at the grocery store to talk about it, and they’ve been approaching his wife at the community center.

“I’m hoping for a big turnout on Saturday,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

Tangen got involved the same way the others did – through his connection with Lisa Peterson.

Lisa is the event chairperson for the local Relay for Life, and has spearheaded the “Dancing With the Stars” competition. She came up with the idea after a Relay for Life planning committee requested a new fundraiser for the relay this year. She then made calls to secure the auditorium, recruit dancers and bring the idea into fruition.

Tickets are $5 and will be available at the door or in advance at United Community Bank, the Perham Chamber, Make Me Wine, Ottertail Builders and other businesses in Perham, Ottertail and New York Mills. Voting for a favorite dance couple is not required, but those who wish to cast votes should go prepared with dollar bills.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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