Months of practise and gallons of sweat later, Sudbury has a new celebrity dance champion.
But it is the people the event's proceeds will help who are the real stars, insisted the winner of the third annual Easter Seals' Dancing with the Stars fundraiser.
Dental office manager by day and celebrity dancer by night, Debbie Lafreniere made the comments after she and her professional dance partner, Dennis Harasymchuk, were crowned the winners of the Feb. 22 event.
“We had more fun and challenge than I ever expected,” said Lafreniere, who bought her way into the competition via last years auction. “But nowhere near the challenges that kids with physical disabilities face on a daily basis. Dennis and I share this year's trophy with them, as they are the real stars.”
Two of those stars were on hand for the event. Easter Seals ambassadors Cassandra Degn and Kyle Leblanc, both 11, were on hand for the event and brought greetings for the crowd and accepted, on behalf of Easter Seals, a cheque for $5,000 from Norm Piché Investors Group, the presenting sponsor, and one for $1,000 from the Rotary Club of Sudbury Sunrisers.
The $56,000 their efforts — and the efforts of the other celebrity dancers and their pro partners — helped raise will go a long way to helping Easter Seals help its clients, said Nicole Blais, development manager for Easter Seals in Northern Ontario.
“The performances again this year were beyond our expectations,” Blais said. “The success of the hard work and effort by the dancers, organizing committee, staff and volunteers is a big win for the organization and the children we serve.
“Heartfelt thanks goes out to them all as well as the sponsors and audience.”
Dancing a waltz and then a cha cha in the upstairs hall at the Caruso Club, the team earned high praise from the judges for their enthusiasm and highenergy, and the partnership proved to be a crowd favourite as well.
Taking the second-place spot was Beau Frescura from RBC Dominion Securities and his pro partner Ramona Laderoute, who were also awarded the online People's Choice award. Jennifer Almenar (owner of Evolve Active Therapy) and pro partner Dan Kaltiainen claimed third.
Rounding out the field of competitors was Bob Landry, a superintendent at Vale and his pro partner, Lucie Lacroix; Carol McAuley, vice-president of administration at Laurentian University and her pro partner, Robert Masih; and Sylvie Gaskin, a member of the Rotary Sunrisers, and pro partner, Bob Leduc.
Before a sold out crowd, the competitors strutted their stuff in front of a three-judge panel, consisting of Rewind FM deejay Audra Denny, EastlinkTV producer Stewart Gagan and Northern Life managing editor Mark Gentili, who provided comments, laughes and scores.
Audience members were allowed to purchase voting cards to vote for their favourite competitors.
Born in Sudbury three years ago through the efforts of Blais, Dancing with the Stars for Easter Seals fundraisers are now held in three Ontario cities and have raised around $1 million for the organization. Blais was honoured by Easter Seals on Feb. 22 for developing the successful event, which, the audience was told that night, has been incorporated by Easter Seals Ontario as a signature event across the province.
Dancing with the Stars was presented by presented by Norman Piché Investors Group this year. Next on the calendar for Easter Seals is the annual Easter Seals Telethon on March 24.
For more information, visit easterseals.org.