Scene Represented in 'Dancing with the Cleveland Stars' Tonight

"I'm not a star."

I say this every time someone calls me that, and yet it never seems to sink in.

I'm also not alternative, amazing at dance or traditionally “fit,” but I'm still competing in Dancing with the Cleveland Stars, a city-wide dance competition on behalf of the (kickass) magazine I sell ads for.

For the past five years, local entity Ballroom Rocks Cleveland Inc. has organized Dancing with the Cleveland Stars. Cleveland “celebrities” are hand-picked by Managing Director Lizabeth Rice and then paired with local dance professionals. The coach works with the celebrity to learn the choreography of a routine from the television show “Dancing with the Stars,” then adds the professional to the mix. The duo rehearses a routine for a couple of months under the supervision of the dance coach, then they perform it and the audience and judges vote on the winner. Proceeds of the ticket sales are donated to the charity of the winner’s choice.

The contest is tonight at Memorial Hall in Rocky River. I have been practicing my routine for over a dozen hours over the past two months to get to the point where I am now, which I will be able to showcase for a total of one minute and thirty-six seconds.

At my first practice back in August, I felt awkward twisting my hips in time as my coach looked on and chided me to smile. By the final practice, I was truly committed; flinging my arms around so hard that I thought my engagement ring was going to fall off and fly across the studio. My coach and my partner have praised my transformation, noting that my confidence has evolved from a “I don’t know if I can dance…” to more of a “Yes, as a matter of fact, I CAN dance.”

Before my first-hand experience with ballroom, my opinion was this: Despite the fact that success in ballroom depends on teamwork and trust between a man and a woman, it is a male-driven sport. The woman may be the spectacle (and how can she not be, with her flamboyant costume, fluid movement and dramatic expression?), but the man is calling all the shots. He is the one with the control; she cannot take a step without his direction. The man manipulates the movement, direction, tempo and basically the entire dance. He's a puppet master. The woman is there to respond to his directions and to look pretty while doing so.

My opinion hasn’t changed, but it doesn’t mean that ballroom isn’t a hell of a lot of fun – especially with the right partner.

Franklyn Singley is a tall, gorgeous black man who has a way of building my confidence in a way that is genuine, friendly and highly effective. My coach actually had to find him specifically for me. Towering at the modest height of 5-foot-8-inches, I am the tallest female this season… taller than all of the male professionals and most of the male celebrities. Franklyn is 6-foot-6-inches, a professional ice skater and an outstanding ballroom dancer. He is considerably older than I am but it clearly doesn’t matter; he is in amazing shape and flings me around like a rag doll. Please note that I am a curvy lady and this is quite uncommon for me.

Our dance is a paso doble originally performed by Mark Ballas and Sadie Robertson on “Dancing with the Stars.” It is an edgier routine, as per my request to represent Scene as accurately as possible in a world of sparkles, four-counts and overhead lifts. In the original routine, the female partner is (of course) the damsel. He is chasing her, she is resisting him, he continues pursuing her anyway, he eventually wins her over — by force if necessary. It's enough to make any feminist's stomach churn. So my coach and I arranged a twist that allows me to be less vulnerable prey and more of a vengeful monster.

It is going to be SO badass.

Going into the competition, I didn’t consider myself a star. I’m not a household name like fellow contestants Shanice Dunning or J.G. Spooner. I knew I wasn’t traditionally fit or a dance professional. Let’s be real, I completely underestimated myself and focused on my disadvantages. I’m sure my competition did the same, which makes me the top contender for the 2015 Dancing with the Cleveland Stars Champion. Who knows, maybe more?

Dancing with the Cleveland Stars tickets will be on-sale at the event, located at Rocky River Memorial Hall (21016 Hilliard Blvd., Rocky River). Doors open at 5 p.m. for the 6 p.m. show and open again at 7 p.m. for the 8 p.m. show. General admission is $25, VIP admission is $45.