FLORENCE, S.C. — Local celebrities met their professional dance partners Thursday evening at a pairings party for the 2020 Dancing for our Future Stars competition in Florence.

Twelves couples will participate in the 10th annual dance competition on March 26 hosted by The School Foundation at the Southeastern Institute for Manufacturing and Technology Center on the Florence-Darlington Technical College campus.

The event will support The School Foundation, which promotes educational excellence in Florence County School District One through grants and StartSmart initiatives. The dancing fundraiser has netted approximately $1.1 million over the last nine years.

“It has been amazing how much people will spend to see their friends dance,” said Mindy Taylor, chair of the planning committee. “We raise money for The School Foundation for their missions.”

Mainly, she said, they do it for the children.

For the 10th anniversary, Taylor said, some special entertainment is planned with previous dancers.

Burnadene Kelley-Newman said she handles the dance choreography for the competition and assists the professional dancers in selecting the proper style of music and costumes. She has been with the event since the very beginning.

“I do it for the children,” she said.

She said she is a professional dancer, and she tries to teach her dancers to give back to the community.

“I do this to set an example,” she said.

Kyle Baxter with MUSC Health Florence Medical Center said, “My wife has been trying to get me to do this since we moved to Florence four years ago.”

He said the hospital was in a transition last year and wasn’t represented in the competition. His boss, Vance Reynolds, said Baxter was going to do it this year and committed him then.

“Dancing in front of 300 people is out of my comfort zone,” he said. “There will be some nerves.”

He said he likes to dance at weddings and parties, but this will be something new.

“I was asked to do this, and I’m a big supporter of the community,” said Les Echols with the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce. “This is not out of my comfort zone. I’m a fairly good dancer.”

He said he is confident that he can win.

“This is an opportunity to have fun with my colleague and friends in the community,” he said.

Tripp Taylor is one of the youngest dancers. He is a sophomore at South Florence High School and is the professional dance partner for Ashley Christenbury. He said he has been dancing with the S.C. Dance Theater for about a year but has been doing Music Theater since he was 5 years old.

“I thought it would be a very fun experience and it is for a good cause,” he said.

“We are in it to win,” Christenbury said.

There are two family duos participating this year. Chris Mixon is the professional dance partner for Keisha Johnson. His daughter, Connie, is the professional partner for William Schofield. He said they are ready for the competition among dance teams and family.

Debbie Hyler, executive director of The School Foundation, said the event brings a wide spectrum of the community together to support education.

“This is our largest fundraiser,” she said.

“We will sell out of tables tonight,” she said.

Ninety tables are available.

Money is raised, she said, by selling one vote for $10. She said that can be one table for $1,000 for 100 votes or an ad in the program. She said once the website is up people will be able to go online and vote.

Teams are:

Kyle Baxter/Mallory Baxley

Ashley Christenbury/Tripp Taylor

Les Echols/Caroline Tanner

Dr. Brian Hutcheson/Meggie Baker

Dr. Will Jackson/Dr. Rachel Fenters

Greg Johnson/Alexis McDonald

Keisha Johnson/Chris Mixon

Dan Massey/Tiffany Welsh

William Schofield/Connie Mixon

Joshua Smalls/Kara Tanner

Dr. Jarrod Tippins/Hannah Yarborough

Dr. Vivek Vasuki/Erin Haynes.

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