There was an extra sparkle to Highland Hills Elementary School on Monday.
It came from the coveted mirror-ball trophy Principal Jake Bacon won over the weekend, dancing his way to the top at the annual Dancing With the Hermiston Stars event.
“There were several things that were really cool about it, but the best part was watching the kids get excited about it,” he said. “That was really fun.”
Saturday night featured seven local “stars” paired with professional dancers from the Utah Ballroom Dance Company. Each local dancer was dancing for a nonprofit of their choice (Bacon’s was the Kiwanis Club), and audience members could supplement the judges’ scores by dropping money in the jar of their favorite dancer’s charity during the intermission. The event, which raised close to $10,000, was sponsored by the Hermiston Education Foundation.
Bacon took on the persona of hip hop recording artist MC Hammer — iconic pants and all — and danced a ballroom hip hop routine to Hammer’s hit song “U Can’t Touch This.”
There was a panel of judges, but since audience votes counted for most of the score, Bacon credits his students’ cheerleading with the win.
“They were there in force, yelling and screaming,” he said. “We took a lot of selfies.”
The competition was fierce — Bacon beat out Hermiston High School drama teacher Beth Anderson by only four votes. Anderson, in keeping with the night’s theme of “music legends,” hit the stage in a blonde wig (and some other recognizable features) to channel Dolly Parton, dancing the quickstep to “9 to 5.”
She was dancing for the Hermiston Education Foundation, which gives classroom grants to enhance student learning through extra field trips, technology or projects. Anderson also used the platform to put in a plug for her students’ performance of Wizard of Oz, planned for Feb. 1,2,8 and 9.
She said she hadn’t expected to be one of the finalists.
“I’m shocked because there were much better dancers out there,” she said.
The highest judges’ score of the night went to Desert View Elementary School first grade teacher Kara Frazier, who shook and shimmied her way through a salsa to the sounds of Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie.” Frazier earned an almost-perfect 29 out of 30 for the performance.
In a video interview with Frazier and her professional dance partner Trevor, she said the hardest part was learning to do the dance while wearing high heels. She danced for Made to Thrive, which provides money and support for students who might not otherwise be able to participate in extra-curricular activities.
Jonny Badillo of Umatilla-Morrow Head Start danced a “Thriller”-themed cha cha as Michael Jackson, raising money for Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASAs act as advocates for children in the foster system.
Ashley Umbarger, looking very country in a fringe dress and cowboy boots, did a country two-step inspired by Loretta Lynn that featured a back flip. Umbarger and her husband Jeff Umbarger recently became co-directors of Campus Life, which provides wholesome activities and a safe, positive place for teenagers to hang out.
Mary Winebarger, a semi-retired bookkeeper, put in a long black wig and danced disco to Cher’s “Believe.” She is the treasurer for Altrusa International, and raised money for the service club Saturday.
Tony Garberg, director of cardiopulmonary services for Good Shepherd Medical Center, donned a purple velvet blazer and whirled his partner around in a foxtrot to “Walk Like a Man” by Franki Valli and the Four Seasons.
“You didn’t just walk like a man, you were the man!” judge Dawn Kennison-Kerrigan told him before the three judges awarded him a score of 26.
Votes for Garberg raised money for Rotary Club.
Bacon, who raised the most money of the night, put it toward the Kiwanis Club, of which he is a member. One of the ways the club will spend the money is on sponsoring Outdoor School for local fifth graders.
“Everyone wins out of this,” he said. “The bragging rights are fun to have — and they will be used — but really, everyone wins, the dancers and the community.”
While the Utah Ballroom Dance Company has 45 stops planned for its tour, Saturday’s emcee told the audience that Hermiston holds a special place in the company’s heart as the longest-running Dancing With Your Stars show at seven “seasons.” The Desert Arts Council had previously sponsored the event, but the Hermiston Education Foundation stepped up this year instead, with the help of U.S. Bank.
Bacon said he got recruited by Hermiston School District Superintendent Tricia Mooney, and despite what some may think, didn’t have any dance experience whatsoever.
Once the seven participants were chosen, they got together for a “reveal” party where they were able to hear the songs available and choose which routine they wanted to tackle.
“When they brought up MC Hammer, everyone laughed and pointed at me, so I kind of got it by default,” Bacon said.
Each dancer had one-hour practice sessions Sunday through Thursday, with a dress rehearsal Saturday. Bacon said his professional partner Katya was “amazing” and helped him learn quickly.
He said he was so nervous he almost felt sick, but once he went out on stage it went well, and he had fun bonding with the other amateur competitors throughout the week.
Bacon said he brought the mirror-ball trophy to school on Monday and presented it to the students, who asked if they could call him “McBacon” from now on.