It’s all about the costumes for Jordan Whittle.
“When I got the call to participate in Forrest General Hospital’s local competition this year, I had visions of doing a tango and wearing a red, sparkly dress,” she said.
Instead, Whittle was dressed in jeans, a T-shirt and cowboy boots for her performance. Her partner was professional Cody Johnson, owner of Southern Ballroom in Petal. A dance instructor for 15 years, Johnson said that the “Dancing with the Stars” television show has been great for his business. “It raises awareness of ballroom dance as both an art form and a great way to exercise.”
This year’s event is set for Saturday, Feb. 25 with the highlight of the eighth annual event being the “Celebrity Dancing with the Stars” competition. Catherine Strange, co-author of the “Fearless Entertaining” books, and John Brown, assistant to the mayor in Hattiesburg, are two of the contestants. “I can’t wait to meet my dance instructor and begin learning the steps,” Strange said. “With a love for taking everyday items and turning them into something unexpected, I am looking forward to turning the tables and entrusting my dance instructor with that job.” Additional dancers and judges were still being confirmed at press time.
“Those contestants better get ready,” said Anita Wright, deputy director of the Hattiesburg Convention Commission and a contestant last year. Partnered with professional Nathan Easterling, Wright danced the jive to “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley while wearing an orange and white striped jumpsuit.
“It was extremely hard,” said Wright. “I used to dance in high school, but that was at least 10 years ago. While I exercise regularly, the workout I got from dancing did not compare. It made me have a new respect for the stars who dance on TV. I was sore, but I loved every minute of it.”
Chris Bowen, who is a supervisor for Forrest County, agreed with Wright. “Going through that experience showed me that I’m not as young as I used to be.” Bowen said that he was surprised at the athletic prowess a dancer must possess. Bowen got instruction from Johnson, and partnered with his wife, Lisa.
“We practiced about an hour and a half daily for a week in the studio, and more at home. My knees aren’t in the best shape, so I really felt it.”
The couple did the hustle to “Whip It” by Devo. They put together their all-black dancing outfits from their closet at home. Bowen is much more at ease in the woods than he is on the dance floor. “If you told me I’d have to dance in order to go to the woods, I’d put on some dancing shoes right now.”
Even though Whittle didn’t get to wear a sequined costume for her dance, she said she was thrilled to be a part of the event. “We did a West Coast swing, which is like a slow step dance,” Whittle said. “I took dance classes as a child, but never anything like this, and I had never danced with a partner.” Whittle describes herself as a perfectionist, and said she gets uptight when things don’t come easily to her.
“Jordan’s biggest challenge was being nervous,” said Johnson. “Dancing is like walking. I can’t change the way you feel when you move, but I can change the way you look. I told her to just learn the steps first, then we’d work on technique. She was a good sport, and worked really hard. She even did a couple of lifts with me. Once she got past her nerves, she just went for it.”
Whittle said that learning the dance was one of the hardest things she’s ever done. “We spent two hours a day for two weeks, and that was while I was in school and working.” The senior marketing major at the University of Southern Mississippi said that the competition was certainly smaller in scale to the television show, but parallel on a local level. “I was very impressed with the thought process behind the event. The staff at Forrest General did a great job planning everything.”
Unlike the television show, the “Celebrity Dancing with the Stars” competition uses recorded music. Whittle and Johnson danced to “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” by Big & Rich. “I was originally going to wear a cowboy hat, but with the lifts, I was afraid it would come off, so I scrapped that idea. In hindsight, I probably should have bedazzled my T-shirt for some extra glitz.”
Bedazzled or not, the judges loved Whittle and Johnson’s performance. The couple won first place. “When I was back for the 2011 Miss Mississippi Hospitality Pageant, they asked me if I had done anything interesting during my reign. I told them I learned to dance.”
Did you know?
Because dance is such a great way to get the heart pumping, Day of Dance has become one of the national events presented by the Spirit of Women network of hospitals. Forrest General’s director of marketing and communication Michelle Leslie, said Forrest General is one of two hospitals in the state that are in the Spirit of Women network. The other is the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo.
“There are proven health benefits from dancing, including reduced risk for heart disease, lowering blood pressure, building stamina, increasing flexibility and improved bone health,” said Kathy Emmons, marketing and communications specialist and Spirit of Women coordinator at Forrest General. Dancing can even help prevent Alzheimer’s because it exercises the brain as much as it does the body, she said. “Dancing is a never-ending experience.”
Want to go?
What: Day of Dance for Your Health
When: Saturday, Feb. 25. Events start at 9 a.m.; dance contest at 10 a.m.
Where: Lake Terrace Convention Center, Hattiesburg
More info: www.forrestgeneral.com.