|By Carley Dangona
The New England region of Fred Astaire dance studios is hosting a “Dancing with Our Heroes” fundraiser to benefit Fisher House. Christine Bassett and Cheryl Raccio are the two West Springfield participants. Left to right: Lee Williams, Bassett, Raccio and Robin Jedlicka at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio, 54 Wayside Ave.
Reminder Publications photo Carley Dangona
WEST SPRINGFIELD – In a fundraising effort for the Friends of the Fisher House Connecticut, local heroes in Western Massachusetts are hitting the dance floor.
The West Springfield Fred Astaire Dance Studio (FA) is participating in a region-wide “Dancing with Our Heroes” event where veterans or family members of veterans are paired with a professional dance partner.
Each dance duo is perfecting one dance to perform at the competition. Sixty FA instructors have volunteered for the project and more than 53 heroes have signed up. There are 19 studios taking part in the fundraiser.
The couples will dance at the Heroes gala on Nov. 10 in a format similar to “Dancing with the Stars,” a popular reality TV show, complete with celebrity judges and audience voting. The goal is to raise $200,000 to establish a Fisher House in West Haven, Conn. at the Veterans Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System campus.
According to the website, www.fisherhouse.org, “Fisher Houses are beautiful homes, donated to the military and Department of Veterans Affairs. These homes enable family members to be close to a loved one at the most stressful time – during the hospitalization for a combat injury, illness or disease.”
“I had no second thoughts [in participating],” Christine Bassett, a retired Senior Master Sgt. of the Air National Guard and Post Commander for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) #3236 in Ludlow, said.
She learned about the competition at a VFW picnic, where two attendees asked if she’d be interested in participating. While Bassett has never danced before, she plans to continue taking lessons after the performance.
Bassett’s Foxtrot instructor and dance partner Lee Williams has been dancing for more than 20 years. He said, “I’m really, really excited to work with Christine. She’s doing really well. We’re on the right path.”
Williams said the first lesson he taught Bassett is that dancing is “fun and that it’s okay to make mistakes.”
Robin Jedlicka, licensee and director of the West Springfield FA studio said, “I think that it’s really good that we can use the FA franchise to raise money to give back. It builds camaraderie in the community.”
He explained that each studio is donating the lessons to the heroes, who come once or twice a week for 45-minute sessions. Each participant can choose to dance the waltz, foxtrot, swing or salsa.
Cheryl Raccio is the other Heroes participant at the West Side studio. She is dancing in the Waltz with Jedlicka in honor of her father and two brothers who are veterans.
Raccio said she does have previous dance experience, and has even danced as part of an orchestral performance at the Bushnell Theatre in Hartford, Conn.
“She’s very easy to teach. The basic foundation is there, so we are fine-tuning aspects such as arm styling and continuity of movement,” Jedlicka said.
Tom Flowers, a member of the Friends’ board of directors and project officer for the event, said the total cost of the project is $6 million. He cited the total fundraising goal as $3 million because the Fisher House Foundation will match that amount to establish the home.
Flowers said that the Friends hope to fund a 16,000 square-foot; 20-room building that will be given to the hospital at the ribbon cutting. Groundbreaking is slated for late 2014. Flowers anticipated that nearly $1 million would be raised by this year’s end.
A retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force, Flowers is also one of the dancers.
“It’s been great. The people couldn’t be nicer, more helpful or more welcoming. It’s wonderful to be around these people,” he said about his experience at the FA studio in Orange, Conn.
Kimberly Haidinger, area director for the New England region of FA and a lifelong dancer, said, “I wanted to give back; to use the power of dance to take care of those people who take care of us and sacrifice their physical well being.”
The gala will take place at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, Conn. and will feature dinner, a silent auction and a professional show. For more information about the event, visit http://dancingwithourheroes.com.
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