By Punch Contributor Melinda ContrerasÂ
Shortly before the 2nd Annual DC’s Dancing Stars Gala, we interviewed Gala co-chair andÂ Fred Astaire Dance Studio-Fairfax co-owner,Â Maria Coakley David. The event, held October 24, 2015 at the Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner, raised over $185,00 in support ofÂ The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, T.A.P.S., Marymount University, Our Military Kids, and The Code of Support Foundation. Co-hosted by Emmy Award-winning actor and producerÂ Vincent De Paul, the event paired professional dancers from theÂ Fred Astaire Dance Studio with local stars includingÂ ABCâ€™s The Bachelor, Andrew Baldwin;Â ABC7 Emmy Winning Anchor, Jummy Olabanji; and National Political Media Commentator, Caleb Bonam. Employees from Baker Tilly, Booz Allen Hamilton, Ociana, and Reinsch Companies also competed as part of the Corporate Challenge. Shortly after the event, which awarded President of Marymount University, Dr. Matt Shank and his partner Katya Naiman with the top prize of a 2015 Mirror Ball Trophy and $10,000 to donate to the charity of their choiceÂ , we spoke with Corporate Challenge contestant MaryJo Robinson to learn how she transitioned from aÂ Senior Lead Technologist at Booz Allen to a competitive dancer in a two week period, and why, out of the many ways Booz Allen gives back to the community, this event was particularly special for her.
It was a win-win, to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of being cancer free, while also supporting LLS.
Pamela’s Punch: Why did you choose to compete in DC’s Dancing Stars Gala?
MaryJo Robinson: In addition to wanting to support my firm, Booz Allen Hamilton in the Corporate Challenge, I personally wanted to compete because it is my 10th year cancer free from Lymphoma. I support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in a lot of different ways and one of the benefitting charities of the Gala was LLS, so it was a great fit. My company was doing it, and I wanted to do something out of the box, because Iâ€™m not a dancer. It was a win-win, to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of being cancer free, while also supporting LLS.
PP: How did you decide what song and dance you were going to do?
MR: My partner Jason Rushing and Â I did a West Coast Swing to Taylor Swiftâ€™s â€œShake it Off.â€ I was trying to be strategic. I wanted to pick a dance that would be comfortable for me, not too sexy, just fun. I let Jason know that Iâ€™d rather do something a little more fast and fun because I had only ever done dance training for the two weeks prior to the event and had no technique really. I was kind of strategic in picking something that was a little looser than like a Tango or Â a Quick Step, which my competitor was doing (but sheâ€™s been dancing for many years). I wanted to pick a song that would resonate with the crowd and get them excited, and I wanted to pick something fun. Jason was really great with listening to what I wanted, though I think he would have preferred I dance to lik an AC/DC song or something. He let me pick Taylor Swift though (laughs).
I realized that no one else knows that you are missing steps. I mean you can tell a little, but if you seem to be having fun, everyone is just happy for you.
PP: How does competitive dance compare to your daily work at the office? Are there any similarities?
MR: I approached it sort of as I would a strategic project. Iâ€™m a telecom engineer, so I would have Jason sort of break the stuff down for me. Some people may learn differently, like it just might come more naturally to them, but I sort of had to break it down more piece by piece, then process it, then practice it. I sort of approached it like I would any strategic project, like what do you need to do to get to the end, and what are the steps to get there? Instead of engineering steps, it was dance steps. I also definitely put the time in. We had 10 lessons in two weeks, and I was there with Jason pretty much everyday for two weeks, just putting the time in, like I would for work.
Sometimes you have to remember in life that just getting out and putting yourself out there is success even if maybe your steps are all off.
PP: What was the most challenging part of the process or experience?
MR: For me it was the stage fright. I wasnâ€™t confident or sure of my dancing skills because I had never done something like this before, and I was so nervous to do it in front of people. Itâ€™s such a departure from my daily life, to be in this fancy costume, with this makeup, and these eye lashes, in front of all these people, so that was scary, but everyone was so supportive and nice. I was really surprised at how great the dance community is. At the dress rehearsals, when other dancers from the studio were there, showing their support, I realized that no one else knows that you are missing steps. I mean you can tell a little, but if you seem to be having fun, everyone is just happy for you, and I tried to remind myself that this is for charity, and itâ€™s for fun.
I was the very first dancer to perform for the night, which was great and bad (great because I got it over with, but bad because itâ€™s kind of crazy to go first). As I was about to go on, one of the celebrity dancers, makeup artistÂ Erwin Gomez,Â he just grabbed my hand and said, “Girl, youâ€™re fierce!” It sounds kind of silly, but it really gave me the confidence to say, “You know what-Iâ€™m out here doing this, only 12 of us or so areÂ doing it. All these people are so supportive and be proud that youâ€™re courageous enough to try something like this for a good cause.”Â
PP: What was the most rewarding part of the experience?
MR: The rewarding part was giving back to the charities and especially, for me personally, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I raised about $25,000Â with Booz Allen and to be able to support LLS, along with TAPS, Our Military Kids, and Marymount University was so rewarding. Secondly, the camaraderie was also really rewarding, as well as the self-confidence I gained after going out and trying something out of my comfort zone. All of that was really rewarding.
PP: Describe your overall experience in three words.
MR: Fun, scary, worth it (if you count worth it as one word-laughs).
PP: Prior to this event, what was your greatest dancing memory?
MR: Dancing with my dad at my wedding.
PP: What do you enjoy about dancing in general?
MR: I like more the aspect of the crowd. One on one dancing is not so much my forte, but I like dancing at a wedding with all your friends and just having fun.
PP: Do you watching Dancing with the Stars? If so, who is your favorite contestant?
MJ: I think everyoneâ€™s favorite is Bindi Irwin this season, sheâ€™s doing an amazing job. From previous seasons, Brooke Burke really stands out to me-I really liked all her numbers. Going back to the beginning, I really enjoyed Lisa Rinna. Their performances still stick with me. They were really good. I think Lisa Rinna especially because she really struggled at the beginning and then she became a really good dancer.