Quick study: Fill-in contestant dances away with trophy at DLTS fundraiser

Jan. 29—ANDERSON — She wasn't exactly a last-minute entrant, but Daionah Jordan had less time than some of her competitors to train for Saturday's Dancing Like The Stars competition at the Paramount Theatre.

A week before organizers had their first formal meeting with the contestants who would make up this year's field, Jordan was asked to step in for a celebrity dancer whose schedule wouldn't allow her to consistently practice.

"I just had to learn as I went," Jordan said.

She proved to be a quick study, as evidenced by the mirror ball trophies she and her professional dance partner, Jonah Schneider, held aloft after they were announced as the Judges' Choice winners at the 15th edition of the competition.

"She listened, she asked questions, we worked together," Schneider said of his partner. "I mean, we communicated, so it was very easy to build the routine, and that's basically what we did. We just built it little by little."

The performance by Jordan and Schneider, a cha cha routine that brought a loudly cheering group of Jordan's supporters to their feet, was lauded by the judges for its technical excellence as well as a "dash of sass" that gave it a crowd-pleasing flair.

Before the evening's first performance, Roger Greenawalt, who has judged the competition for the last 12 years, said a balance between technique and personality is a key ingredient in any winning routine.

"There's a lot of different aspects," he said, "but also, this is a show, so how into the performance are they, and are they really making it a show?"

Each of the 16 celebrity dancers who entered the competition was asked to raise funds to benefit the Paramount. A separate People's Choice category awarded mirror ball trophies to the two entrants who raised the most money.

Throughout its existence, Dancing Like The Stars has raised nearly $1 million for the continued restoration and operation of the historic downtown theater.

This year, some of the proceeds are being earmarked for amenities that organizers say will provide the theater with a modern feel for years to come, including new flooring and a new backdrop curtain.

"There's a lot of wonderful things we're trying to feature to let people know that the Paramount has done a little facelift on everything," said Denise Miller, this year's event co-chair.

In addition to helping maintain the downtown landmark, several dancers said the sense of camaraderie with their competitors added to the experience.

"The connections that I've made with the other dancers and the professional dancers, I think that's something that I'll take away and I'll have those relationships, hopefully, my entire life," said Montana Patterson, a funeral director with Brown-Butz-Diedring Funeral Home in Anderson.

"I attended this program last year, and it was something that I just fell in love with the moment I saw it."

Jordan, a former fitness instructor who is preparing to open her own interior design business, said having a large contingent of family and friends on hand to see her performance made the evening extra special.

"There was a lot of love, a lot of support, and that meant the world to me," she said. "To have my family, my friends, all of my support and sponsors, that meant so much to me.

"I'm going to remember this forever, for years to come."

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.