Although he is used to being on a stage in front of people, Matt VanFossen is pretty freaked out about this Saturday evening.
Instead of singing, VanFossen has to dance. In public. With a shining spotlight. In front of three judges and hundreds of people.
Yes, he’s freaked out.
He will partner with Dona’e Albert to form one of 11 couples competing in the sixth annual “Dancing with the Ohio Valley Stars” at the Capitol Theatre. The event supports the Augusta Levy Learning Center in North Wheeling, a facility that concentrates on all aspects involved with autism. The event will feature its largest field ever of celebrity dancers and will include seven new professionals and four returning instructors.
“It’s one of those things where I was secretly wishing they would call me to participate, and they finally did,” VanFossen said. “I’ve been interested in doing this for years, but I never really expressed it to anyone. Every time they would announce the lineup I always wished I would be one of the participants.
“When I was contacted, I told Staci that I had been waiting for years to be able to,” he continued. “And no, I really have no dancing experience, but what I think is really great about how this event works is that it’s really all about the kids, so to get to do this really means a lot to me.”
Each couple will perform a dance of their choice and at the end the judges will release the selections for first, second, and third place. Tickets are $30 and are currently on sale at the WesBanco Arena Box Office and on the Capitol Theatre website. A pre-party beginning at 5 p.m. will be held in the Capitol Ballroom prior to the event, with all food being provided by Ye Olde Alpha. Tickets for the pre-party are on sale for $20 and can be purchased on the Augusta Levy website or by calling (304) 242-6722.
“When Dona’e told me we were going to do the Cha-Cha, I slightly knew what that was. I knew I had watched that kind of dance before on the TV show,” VanFossen said. “Then we came to decide to use a Santana song and ever since I think it’s gone pretty smooth.
“It’s been really fun and not just because we get to do this for charity and for the kids but also because I get to do this with her because she has an incredible story about wanting to be involved with this event for a bunch of years,” he said. “She is so passionate about this event and about helping these children in any way she can. She sat there and waited until she was old enough to be allowed to do this event, and now she is, and she’s one of the professionals this year.”
Although Albert has been dancing since she was a young child, the “Dancing with the Ohio Valley Stars” event presents new challenges for her, as well.
“Matt has improved a lot since we first started rehearsing, so I am very proud of him,” Albert explained. “We’ve been working very hard and since that very first day he’s improved incredibly. I had never taught anyone to dance before so it’s been quite the experience for both of us.
“This is the first time for me to participate in this event, and although I have been dancing since I was 2 years old, I’ve never done duet dancing or choreographed a dance,” she said. “So we’ve had to work it all out together as a team, and we believe we’ve put together something that everyone is going to enjoy.”
She has concentrated mostly on group routines and on the ballet and jazz genres for most her dancing career, but Albert, now a nursing student at Wheeling Jesuit University, has taken her passion for dance into a different direction.
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“I started competing in dance competitions when I was in elementary school and continued all through high school and now in college,” she said. “My mom put me into dance classes when I was very young at Dance Dimensions, and eventually I was going five days a week before high school because of how much I enjoyed it. I fell in love with it by middle school.
“These days I’m no longer at a studio like I was. Now I am taking private lessons with Anna Harsh because it’s really hard to be at a studio when you are going to college and doing everything for my classes and the other activities I’m involved in,” she continued. “With my major in nursing, there’s a lot of time that’s needed to do as well as I can with those classes, so taking the private lessons is the best option for me right now.”
This process, although very time-consuming, has been both rewarding and satisfying because she, too, has wished to participate in “Dancing with the Ohio Valley Stars” since attending a few of the shows in its five-year history.
“I’ve known that I’ve wanted to get involved for a long time, but I wasn’t 18 yet, so I was too young,” Albert said. “And it’s been so much fun getting to spend time with Matt and we’ve become very good friends during the process. I’ve known who Matt VanFossen was for a lot of years, and to get to know him on this level has been a lot of fun.
“Because we’re both very new to this, it’s been enjoyable to figure it all out together. You can watch it all you want, but it’s a much different experience when you are participating,” she said. “We started from scratch a bunch of weeks ago, and now we are down to our final rehearsals before the event on Saturday.”
Other than a few new dance moves, VanFossen admits he’s learned a life lesson about physical fitness during the process of preparing for Saturday’s big event. Since he and Albert met and began rehearsing their Cha-Cha-style routine, he’s found himself taking more walks and carefully choosing his meals.
“This process has definitely caused me to be more aware of what I’ve been eating, and it’s also inspired me to go to the gym more often so I can get into better physical shape,” he admitted. “For a few weeks I was going home from rehearsal with every muscle in my body hurting, but now I am feeling much better, and it’s made me want to live a more healthy lifestyle.
“It’s been a very positive change for me in a lot of ways,” VanFossen continued. “Not only have I gained a good friend in Dona’e, but I believe the whole process has made me a better person overall, and it’s something that I’ve adopted and will keep doing, too.”
VanFossen was raised in the Upper Ohio Valley, and for nearly a decade he has been performing on stages throughout the tri-state region, but never before has he stepped foot on the Capitol Theatre stage, a space that welcomed the biggest and brightest county music stars for several decades during the days of Jamboree U.S.A. He was saddened when the venue was shuttered, overjoyed when the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau bought it in April 2009, and has continued to attend many events there while waiting for his chance to be in front of those 2,317 seats.
“This will be the first time and it won’t be for singing, so that’s another reason why I think this is a really cool opportunity for me,” VanFossen said. “I’m very excited and humbled, and I believe I am the first local singer who will be participating in this event, so that’s something that means a lot to me, too.
“What’s really amazing to me is the reach that this event has. I’m a person who doesn’t think anyone knows who I am or what I do, but I’ve had so many people come up to me because of this event and because they know I am participating,” he said. “And yes, internally, I am terrified. I think to be on that stage is a very big deal because I’ve wanted to be on it my entire life. Is this out of my comfort zone? Oh yeah, it certainly is, but I’ve just kept the reason in my mind, and that always makes me feel much better. It’s all about those children at the Augusta Levy Learning Center.”
(Photos provided by Matt VanFossen and Dona’e Albert)