For the past four months, seven local residents have built a choreographed dance routine from scratch.

Tangos have been tightened. Sambas have been smoothed out. Fox trots have been fine-tuned.

The sweaty practices, sore feet and repeated missteps will pay off this weekend, when the dancers take to the stage for the second Dancing with the Johnson County Stars.

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“You realize just how hard the choreography is and that you’re not out there just free-wheeling it,” said Greg Ilko, one of the dancers. “You have to be in a certain place at a certain time, and you have someone beside you that you hope you don’t trip.”

Dancing with the Johnson County Stars has become one of the county’s largest fundraisers, as well as a chance for people to see the footwork of their neighbors, co-workers and friends.

Each participant has been raising money for a nonprofit agency leading up to the event. While their dance routines will be judged, they all are winners for the work they’ve been able to do to help the people of Johnson County.

“We’re not really competing against one another. We’re all doing this for the right reasons,” said Dorcas Abplanalp, a dancer representing Interchurch Food Pantry.

The first Dancing with the Johnson County Stars was conducted last year and proved to be such a success that organizations clamored to be part of it.

Officials had set a goal of raising $100,000 for the initial contest. By the time all of the ticket sales and donations were counted, they raised more than $180,000, said Barb Miller, organizer of the event.

The goal this year is $200,000. Though they won’t know how much has been raised until after the event, indications are they’ll reach that, Miller said.

“We’re not there yet, but I’m hopeful that we’re getting close,” she said.

The contest was formatted to help multiple agencies, rather than go to all one organization, Miller said.

In order to be eligible to take part, potential contestant agencies had to serve the entire county, have a strong volunteer base and a committed board, Miller said. Once it was picked to take part in Dancing with the Johnson County Stars, each agency could choose its own dancer.

Instructors from Arthur Murray Dance Centers started meeting with the dancers in June to develop a routine and plan two choreographed dances.

“There are parts that are nerve wracking — am I doing it right, am I snapping quickly enough,” said Michelle Shoemaker, dancing in support of the Refuge. “But learning the steps has been fairly easy. I’m sure the people who drive by my house, who see me dancing in the kitchen, are wondering, ‘What is this woman doing?’”

Most dancers practiced at least once a week at Arthur Murray’s Greenwood studio.

“I didn’t realize it was going to be as hard as it was to do these dances,” Abplanalp said. “It’s been very humbling in that respect. But I’ve enjoyed it.”

Abplanalp, vice president on the Interchurch Food Pantry board, was approached last year to take part in the event. Her schedule didn’t allow for it at the time, but she wanted to come back this time when asked again.

The process has been difficult. Creating two separate dance routines and remembering where to be at each moment is tougher than she thought.

Plus, each practice was a workout that left her sore and tired.

“I’m in the best shape in since I don’t know how long,” she said.

Ilko will be doing rumba and a swing routine during his performance. While figuring out the steps was difficult, it was also a challenge thinking about the ancillary aspects of the dance that would be scored, such as keeping his posture straight, where to look and where to hold his arms.

“All those fine details, it was kind of like a golf swing. It’s all that little stuff that makes the overall presentation look like you know what you’re doing,” he said.

Ilko is dancing to benefit Youth Connections, which he has been involved with through his role as a senior project manager with CrossRoad Engineers. The firm has participated in the organization’s Breakfast of Champions fundraiser.

Youth Connections started courting Ilko to dance earlier this year, and he agreed.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun. Hopefully, it raises a lot of money not just for Youth Connections, but for all the charities involved with it,” he said. “Getting out there and seeing what I can do in front of an audience is going to be very, very interesting.”

Each team has taken it upon themselves to host fundraisers and secure sponsors for their dance, as well.

Andy Kinsey, pastor at Grace United Methodist Church, is representing Human Services in this year’s competition. Throughout the summer, he has scheduled “dine to donate” events at local restaurants, hosted a hog roast and family farm day at the church and conducted an Italian dinner with silent auction.

To help support their dancer Jill Johnson, officials at the Johnson County Museum of History created a trivia night fundraiser.

“I love getting out there and getting to know people while raising money for good causes. But also, I was so intrigued by this whole event last year, I thought it was something that would be fun,” Johnson said.

At a glance

Dancing with the Johnson County Stars

2015 dancers

Andy Kinsey

Who: Pastor at Grace United Methodist Church

Representing: Human Services Inc.

Dorcas Abplanalp

Who: Vice president of the Interchurch Food Pantry board

Representing: Interchurch Food Pantry

Jill Johnson

Who: Realtor for Century 21 Sheetz Realty, Greenwood

Representing: Johnson County Historical Society

David Clendenning

Who: Superintendent of Franklin Community School Corp.

Representing: KIC-IT

Theresa Matthews

Who: CEO of Tara Treatment Center

Representing: Tara Treatment Center

Michelle Shoemaker

Who: Personal trainer and certified myokinesthetic provider, The Gathering Place, Greenwood

Representing: The Refuge

Greg Ilko

Who: Vice president of CrossRoad Engineers

Representing: Youth Connections

If you go

Dancing with Johnson County Stars

What: A dance competition and fundraiser for eight local agencies.

When: 7 p.m. today and Saturday

Where: Historic Artcraft Theatre, 57 N. Main St., Franklin

Cost: Today is $20 for adults and $10 for those 17 and younger; Saturday is adult-only, and admission is $30, which includes a glass of wine, beer or popcorn and a soda.

Participating agencies: Human Services Inc., Interchurch Food Pantry, Johnson County Historical Society, KIC-IT, Tara Treatment Center, the Refuge and Youth Connections.

Where to get tickets: Tickets are available from each participating agency; at the Artcraft Theatre; or online at

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.