CRESTVIEW — Covenant Hospice is waiting to learn how much additional financial support its nursing, end-of-life care, bereavement and social services received following a Saturday fundraiser.

CRESTVIEW — Covenant Hospice is waiting to learn how much additional financial support its nursing, end-of-life care, bereavement and social services received following a Saturday fundraiser.

"Dance for Life" exceeded usual attendance, but hospice staffers were still waiting for the final tally of funds raised, as of press time, a spokesperson said.

A swirl of light, color and energy filled the Crestview High School Pearl Tyner Auditorium stage last weekend as "Dancing with the Stars" personalities Tony Dovolani and Chelsie Hightower joined local and regional dancers in the Crestview Fred Astaire Dance Studio's annual fundraiser for the hospice.

Nearly 350 people in the audience — a record for the hospice's annual dance event — watched demonstrations of traditional and high-energy moves.

"Last year's event raised $1,700 for Covenant Hospice," the service's development manager, Jenni Perkins, said. "The amount has grown every year it's been put on. With Chelsie and Tony being such big names, it drew more people this year. We completely sold out the VIP tickets."

"This is the biggest we've ever had," Fred Astaire studio co-owner and featured dancer David Colón said.

During the first act, he danced with one of the studio's top former pupils, 12-year-old Madi Lopez, who returned to Crestview from her new home in Texas to perform at the showcase.

While the audience cheered Dovolani and Hightower's high-energy performances, two residents vying for the evening's top honor in the showcase's version of "Dancing with the Local Stars" likewise drew accolades.

Hospital administrator Alicia Booker, dancing with Colón, and attorney Muncelle Mitchell, with professional dancer Aaron Stowell, wowed the audience with their performances.

The crowd soon translated cheers of approval into more funding for Covenant Hospice, putting their money where their mouths were as they voted for their favorite.

Raising close to $230 over Booker's $103, Mitchell took the title for her waltz-like performance, seemingly effortlessly sweeping the stage in a sky-blue gown.

Backstage after their performances, she and Booker said their performances were anything but effortless.

"I'm shaking like a leaf," Mitchell said. "But it was a fabulous experience. I am totally addicted to ballroom dancing right now."

"It was definitely something outside my comfort zone, but it was something I can easily get used to," Booker said. "Any anxiety we had was well worth the cause we were supporting."

Attendees said they enjoyed the spectacle.

"I am having so much fun," DeFuniak Springs resident Linda Whatley said. "I dance at the house in front of a mirror sometimes. My mother, when I was small, used to pull me up to dance. She said, 'If you're feeling blue, get up and dance.' She was my inspiration for coming...."

Crestview resident Kate Snow attended with her children, Lorelai, 10, and Sevryn, 14, and her mother, Carol Melcher, who was visiting from Michigan.

Snow said she has taken all three to her dance lessons.

"I didn't know I could dance," Sevryn said. "I like it, I guess."

"It's fun!" Melcher said. "Aaron was my instructor. He makes it so easy."

As Act 2 revved into gear with Dovolani and Hightower's spirited jitterbug to "Shout!," eight Crestview High Ballroom Dance Club members joined the backstage throng in preparation for their performance.

As sophomore Johnathan Berry, 15, and his friend, junior Adam Sieminski, 17, rehearsed their steps one more time before taking the stage, they agreed watching the pros cut the rug was a little intimidating.

"I've loved ballroom dancing from the start," Johnathan said. "It inspires me to see these guys (the professionals), but I also go, oh my gosh! I'm dancing on the same stage as them."

But with Crestview High alumnus Stowell counting off dance steps in a stage whisper from the stage-right wing, the guys and their partners pulled off their performance.

Contact News Bulletin Arts & Entertainment Editor Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.


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