“The biggest dance party on the planet” is how ABC describes its television series “Dancing With the Stars” that has been airing since 2005. That was the same year Debbie Edwards began teaching swing dance in Fallon, and three years later, Fallon’s own “Dancing With the Stars” began.
When Edwards and her family moved to Fallon, and her daughters began high school, she wanted to provide the opportunity for them to be a part of a top-notch ballroom program. She began the competition and performance dance teams. It was her dream for these dancers to be ambassadors to the community — and even outside of Fallon and Nevada — and to share their love and knowledge of ballroom dance with others.
When the opportunity arose for the teams to go to Hawaii to perform there as well as teach workshops in several of the schools on Oahu, Edwards knew she needed a way to come up with a really good fundraiser to make it possible. Edwards recalls brainstorming in the Churchill County High School office with secretaries Terri Pearson and Cheryl Verturacci. Somehow in that conversation, the idea of Fallon’s own version of “Dancing With the Stars” was born. Edwards talked with former wrestling coach Mitch Overlie, who was involved in putting on the successful fundraiser for the wrestling team called “Night of Fights.” He gave her some great ideas, and she went to work making it happen.
In 2008 was the first annual DWTS in Fallon. The basic set-up is one they have continued to follow. DWTS invites 10 local “celebrities” from among coaches, teachers, businessmen and women, elected officials, military personnel, and respected members of the community who pair up with 10 “professionals” from the dance teams. These pairs learn a short routine within a few months which they must perform the night of the competition. They try to choose from several different businesses to help with the advertising and to draw a variety of people for their audience.
Every year DWTS has a “celebrity couple” competing against each other (one year it was a brother against a sister). Besides the dancing celebrities, DWTS also showcases the Fallon Swing Kids. Each of the local teams presents a dance for the audience to enjoy between the celebrity numbers. It’s a chance for the community to see what this whole program is all about — the youth.
DWTS also enjoys showcasing numbers from the Fallon City Ballet from The Studio for The Performing Arts. Those who are able to attend the yearly competition may purchase basic admission tickets or seats at courtside tables. These “VIP tickets” include either hors d’oeuvres or dinner. Concessions and raffle basket tickets are also available to everyone who attends. That first year someone condescendingly told Edwards that her DWTS would never be as big as “Night of Fights.” When people packed the gym that night, Edwards proved them wrong! Each year the event continues to sellout to very supportive and enthusiastic fans.
DWTS has featured many memorable celebrities. First year attendees enjoyed watching Mayor Ken Tedford dance as well as juvenile probation officer Motulalo Otuafi, Capt. Mike Glaser from Naval Air Station Fallon, and the first celebrity couple, Lissa and Mitch Overlie. The competitive couple kept their routines strictly secret from each other, but in the end Mitch proved to his wife that he’s still has the moves by claiming first place. Lissa returned the next year as an MC and has continued most of the years since.
Other memorable celebrities have included former Sheriff Rich Ingram; Commander Luther Hook, NAS Fallon (second annual); Rear Admiral Mark Fox, NAS Fallon (third annual); Lynne Heller, wife of Sen. Dean Heller (fourth annual), and Josh Mauga, Kansas City Chiefs and former New York Jets football player performing “King of New York” (fifth year). This year will mark the ninth annual DWTS.
Other contestants in DWTS include a variety of judges, local dance instructors have included Jef Horne and Lisa Sloan, drama teacher Glen Perazzo, as well as ballroom instructors Jeffrey Lynn from Reno and Sherri Rallison (Debbie’s sister) from Preston, Idaho. A dance team from Idaho once participated in the Fallon event. Edward’s last year presenting DWTS before moving was in 2012. She has attended every year since either to observe or to serve as a judge.
The first year featured four dance teams: the Competition, Performance, Juniorz and Kidz teams. Other teams joined the program as excitement has steadily grown throughout the years. The Starz (2012) and PeeWeez (2013) teams were added to the swing program bringing the total to six teams of dancers for Fallon Swing Kids.
There have been a few recent changes to the Fallon Swing Kids organization: the original CCHS Competition Team has been split into two teams — namely, The Oasis Academy Competition Ballroom Team and The Studio Competition Ballroom Team; the Performance Team was dissolved, and in its place, CCHS has formed a swing dance club called Churchill County Ballroom Dancers. The Juniorz, Kidz, Starz, and PeeWeez teams remain the same.
While the Fallon Swing Kids teams have done many fundraisers, DWTS has continued to be the biggest fundraiser every year. The money raised has sustained the dance program and has made it possible to realize Edward’s dream. Fallon Swing Kids dancers have won national titles, have performed in Disneyland and have been ambassadors to schools and youth organizations in California, Idaho, Hawaii and Nevada. Everywhere they go, the dancers share their love for ballroom dance and touch others’ hearts with their dedication and excitement to be a part of something great.