News Column

Dishy dancin': A stew of talent on fundraiser menu

May 24, 2014

By Jessica Farrish, The Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va.

May 24--BECKLEY -- What happens when a dance school dropout teams up with the president of an energy company to salsa for money at her favorite restaurant, and then convinces her dentist friend to act as an emcee and DJ?

Throw a local celebrity chef and a generous yoga instructor into the mix, and you could have a reality show -- or an unforgettable fundraising night at The Dish Cafe in Daniels.

"I'm a Jerry Rose (Beckley Dance Theatre) dropout," Michelle Rotellini, the amateur salsa dancer, admits. "I'm pretty sure I finally won that battle with my mom around third grade, which I'm totally regretting now.

"I can just hear her now, looking down from heaven, saying, 'See? You should've stayed in dancing."

Rotellini is the owner of The Dish Cafe. She and her dance partner, Austin Caperton, president of Caperton Inc., aren't, exactly, renegade dancers. They're contestants in the 2014 Dancing with the Stars fundraiser for United Way of Southern West Virginia scheduled for Sept. 19.

The celebrity chef is Sawsan Galal, owner of the Ambrosia Inn in Beckley. Galal is volunteering as a guest chef at The Dish on Thursday as part of a special Dancing with the Stars fundraising evening.

The Dish event will feature Mediterranean cuisine prepared by Chef Galal. Dr. Steve Childress, a local dentist, will be the night's deejay/emcee and karaoke master, and silent auction winners of several goods -- including yoga sessions with Kelli Whitfield and a haircut at Shear Style in Beckley -- will be announced.

But -- in perhaps the crowning moment of the night -- Rotellini and Caperton will make their dance debut Thursday.

Dish customers may make donations to the United Way Dancing with the Stars "Team Michelle & Austin" at the show.

"We'll perform the salsa on the 29th for a donation, not just because we're nice people -- only for votes for the United Way," Rotellini said.

Rotellini acknowledged that -- unless you count her Zumba classes -- she isn't a dancer. Yet.

But dropping out of Jerry Rose's school hasn't cooled her ambition to collect the most $5 votes for Dancing with the Stars.

She and Caperton plan to give a stellar performance in front of an estimated 700 friends and strangers at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center in September.

Their assigned choreographer, Raleigh school teacher Julie Blankenship, said she plans to begin getting the duo dance-floor-ready for the September event as soon as school ends.

But while Blankenship's at her day job, Rotellini and Caperton will be pulling out YouTube videos to learn to salsa in time for Thursday. They've also enlisted the help of Rotellini's Zumba instructor, Ashley Davis, to prepare them for the "teaser" dance.

"We just really need to know what we're working with here, how bad is this going to be," Rotellini said. "We actually had an hour and a half dance practice today, just Austin, me and YouTube.

"We watched the videos, and it actually worked."

Rotellini didn't sign up for Dancing with the Stars because of a secret wish to salsa publicly. She signed up, she admitted, because United Way of Southern West Virginia Executive Director Margaret O'Neal told her to do it.

"(Margaret) called me into her office for (an unrelated) meeting, and during that meeting, she suddenly pushes this blue folder across the desk to me and places it right in front of where I was sitting," reported Rotellini. "I looked down and saw the Dancing with the Stars logo.

"I said, 'Oh, no, Margaret.'

"She said, 'Oh yes.'

"And, so it began."

Rotellini said that while it's "nerve-racking" to think of dancing onstage "when you're not even sure you know how to dance," she wants to raise money to help support the many community organizations that get funding from United Way.

"I'm the type of person, I'm going to go big, or go home," said Rotellini. "So if I'm going to be challenged to raise money for United Way, I'm certainly not going to do it coming in last place.

"I want to be first."

Dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, and karaoke and open mic with Childress as DJ and emcee begins at 7 p.m.

Customers pay $5 to perform, with the proceeds benefiting United Way.

"With a $5 vote to Team Michelle & Austin you can get up and perform open mic with your guitar, you can sing a capella, karaoke, you can pay your flute," said Rotellini.

A silent auction will be held at The Dish all day Thursday, and the winners will be announced Thursday at 9 p.m. Bidders don't have to be present to win.

Items up for bid include cooking lessons from Galal, jewelry, Whitfield's yoga sessions, Shear Style gift certificates, concert tickets, fly fishing and interior design services and wine from the personal collection of Rotellini's husband, Mark.

A $100 ticket to a second Dish fundraiser with former West Virginia governor Gaston Caperton will also be up for auction.

Rotellini said The Dish routinely hosts community fundraisers.

On June 13, Chef Jill Dahan, author of the book "Starting Fresh," will offer a fresh and organic menu created from produce that's sold at the local Farmer's Market, using grass-fed beef and all-natural poultry.

Proceeds will benefit a local charity, said Rotellini.

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