BEST DRESSED: Troy Baker and Kelly Dench were crowd favourites with their rock'n roll routine and won the award for best dressed. D7691-449

DANCING in front of hundreds of strangers after taking a crash course is a huge step outside most people’s comfort zone – so why do it?

For the participants of last Saturday’s Dancing with the Stars fundraiser, it was a matter of a moment’s discomfort for the sake of building community.

Virginia Jeeves, one of the night’s top winners with Richard Hamer, says the main reason she thinks the dancers did so well was because they want Eastern Bay Life Education Trust to continue with their good work. She says the efforts by people like Jo Finlay, the project manager of the event, allowed them to experience something new while helping young people succeed.

“We wanted it to be a success because a lot of work was put into this by Life Education Trust, Jo and the community,” she says. “The word around town is that it was the best show they have had.”

For Richard, it was an opportunity for personal growth. “I used to have a fear of performing in front of people, so I can say I’ve got that off my bucket list,” he says.

Professional choreographer and judge at the event, Rebecca Sutherland, says they looked for teams using the proper technique associated with their dance style and whether the pairs were making a connection with each other. “We want to see they are having fun and are portraying that to the audience,” she says.

Judges provided feedback for each couple – a mix of good-natured ribbing for the audience and critiques of their stage presence or dance skills. The four judges took turns, alternating between two assigning points and two giving feedback. All told, it was an understandably nerve-wracking experience for the winners.

“I was afraid before we went on stage. I sat there for 10 minutes hyperventilating, so I had to use some breathing techniques,” Richard says.

By thinking ahead, they managed to cover for any possible minor mistakes in their performance. “We both planned if anything went wrong we’d just smile and carry on through and then catch up, which we did,” he says.

He says the dance style they were given was part of the reason for their success. “The song and the dance we put together was such that we wanted loads of emotion, lots of loud noise, movement and fun.”

Virginia says she hesitated to become involved at first because she was unsure if her self-image included dancing on-stage.

“I went out and got myself a personal trainer to get my cardio up because you hear about needing to improve fitness and I knew I needed that little bit extra.”

She says the amount of effort required to not only achieve the dance moves but to remember them was more demanding than expected.

“I thought hip-hop would be an easy dance but really it isn’t, there are all these different transitions. You need to have good muscle memory for all those dance moves.”

The one saving grace of the night was the ability to lose one’s self in the moment. “It was almost as if I changed character on the night. When I got all dressed up in hip-hop I found myself become somebody different,” she says.

She says she could not have been paired with a better partner. “Richard was the perfect dance partner because we liked to joke around and have a few laughs.”

Having watched some of the performances on the night over closed circuit television, she became increasingly aware of how far the 20 dancers had come as a group.

“I think I was a bit overwhelmed. I thought, ‘this is just crazy what we’ve learned in just two or three months’. I could see all the work that had been put into it.”