COVINGTON — Who is that up there doing all that shaking and shrugging, head tossing and booty rolling? Is it Beyonce? Mariah Carey? No, that fancy footwork is coming from Rockdale, Newton and Walton county community leaders for Project ReNeWal’s first ever Dancing With the Stars. Their moves might remind folks of Beyonce and Mariah because an award-winning choreographer who has worked with both megastars is now teaching dance steps to these new celebrities — most of whom have never danced on stage in their lives.

Anthony Burrell, founder of the Center for Dance on Moreland Avenue in Atlanta, is a Philadelphia-born creative director, choreographer and actor who is choreographing Project ReNeWal’s Dancing With the Stars benefit. He served as the creative force on E! Entertainment for Mariah’s World, Mariah Carey’s Vegas Residency 1 to Infinity, Sweet Sweet Fantasy Tour, Un-Silent Night Christmas and All I Want for Christmas at Beacon Theater. He was part of the artistic team behind Beyonce’s Super Bowl 50 halftime show, MTV Music Awards in 2016, Country Music Awards in 2016, The Formation World Tour and countless videos. He won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Choreography in Beyonce’s Formation and was also nominated for Best Choreography in Beyonce’s Sorry. His recent film credits include Lemonade, Bad Grandpa, Jack Ass 4 and Leave It On the Floor.

For Project ReNeWal’s Dancing With the Stars, Burrell is working with such new up-and-coming local talent as Dr. Steven Whitworth, Kathy Whitworth, Paul Dominy and Lindsey Moore from Newton County. Rockdale stars include District Attorney Alisha Johnson, Catherine Brown, Claire Cline, Guadalupe Torres, Kimya Motley, Cliffany Friend and Page Conner. From Walton County, these new stars include Monroe Mayor John Howard, Anna Howard, Social Circle Police Chief Tyrone Oliver, Aimee Oliver, Dawn Wells, Police Lt. Brent Davis, Jennifer Helton Sarver, Loganville Mayor Rey Martinez and Bianca Giselle. Anthony Burrell will also dance at the event.

“We have nine dance teams,” Project ReNeWal’s director Vickie Stevenson said. “… We already have folks telling us they want to dance next year. A lot of people have a bucket list that includes doing this. My husband and I have already pledged we will do it if we’re able. I don’t know. We’re old.”

The upcoming benefit will be the main fundraiser for Project ReNeWal, a non-profit organization that serves Rockdale, Newton and Walton counties as a domestic violence intervention program. It operates the only state-licensed shelter that serves those three counties. Other such organizations have held Dancing With the Stars benefits and due to their success, Project ReNeWal’s leaders decided to hold one here.

“I am just amazed at the response from the community,” Stevenson said. “It has been awesome. We’ve already sold over 400 tickets in two weeks.”

Project ReNeWal’s “Dancing With the Stars” will take place Saturday, Feb. 16, from 7-10 p.m. Tickets are $25 . Each tickets gives the buyer 25 votes for his or her favorite “star.” The show will be held at Porter Performing Arts Center at 140 Ram Drive in Covington.

Stevenson, who has led Project ReNeWal for 17 years, has been in the same line of work for 42 years. She was working for a law firm in Atlanta doing temporary protective orders and helping women in domestic violence situations when she was told about the job with Project ReNeWal. She said she was not looking for a different job, but she did interview with Project ReNeWal and said she knew she would go to work there before they ever offered her the job.

“We spent many years raising our daughter,” she said. “We had a couple who lived next door to us who beat his wife all over the front yard. We used to go somewhere whenever that would happen. I don’t do that anymore. I get involved.”

The first year Stevenson went to work for Project ReNeWal, the non-profit organization and its staff of eight people helped 75 individuals out of its 1,000-square-foot office space in the Housing Authority building. Today, Stevenson and her staff of 21, which now includes counselors, case managers and other professionals operate out of a 25,000-square-foot facility at a confidential location. Last year, Project ReNeWal provided assistance to 3,896 women and children who found themselves living in violent homes. Money raised from Dancing With the Stars will help provide assistance for Project ReNeWal’s work.

The upcoming fundraiser promises to offer an evening of fun and entertainment, and Stevenson said the contestants themselves are having a ball. The dancers have been rehearsing for three months, and Stevenson said there has been some “smack talking” on Facebook among the dancers.

“Chief Tyrone Oliver and Brent Davis from Walton County and Mayor Rey Martinez have all kind of challenged each other,” she added. “…They’ve been having a blast with it. I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve seen from the dancers. It’s a lot of fun. We’ve got some really, really nice crystal trophies for the top three winners.”

For more information or to buy tickets, go to projectrenewalgeorgia.com or call 770-860-9770.

Beth Slaughter Sexton is a freelance writer based in Walton County. Contact her at bethslaughtersexton@gmail.com.

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