December 12, 2014

Priest-turned-dancer cuts a rug for a worthy cause

Father Aaron Pfaff and Salley Dooley dance a quickstep to Louis Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing” during the Nov. 8 “Dancing with the Shelby County Stars” fundraising event at Indiana Grand Racing and Casino in Shelby County. Father Pfaff is pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville and sacramental minister of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Shelby County. The event benefitted two non-profit organizations—Shelby Senior Services Inc. and Shelby County Players. (Submitted photo by Warren Robison)

Father Aaron Pfaff and Salley Dooley dance a quickstep to Louis Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing” during the Nov. 8 “Dancing with the Shelby County Stars” fundraising event at Indiana Grand Racing and Casino in Shelby County. Father Pfaff is pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville and sacramental minister of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Shelby County. The event benefitted two non-profit organizations—Shelby Senior Services Inc. and Shelby County Players. (Submitted photo by Warren Robison)

By Sean Gallagher

Spotlights flooded the dance floor. Salley Dooley stepped onto it wearing a flowing fuscia dress, a bright smile and sparkling eyes.

Father Aaron Pfaff, her partner for the dance, was dressed to the nines, complete with white tie and tails.

But his face betrayed the fear and nervousness that filled his heart as he and his partner prepared to dance before an audience of 400 people to Benny Goodman’s famous rendition of Louis Prima’s big band classic, “Sing Sing Sing.”

“She looked like a regular Miss Congeniality, waving, confident, smiling,” said Father Pfaff. “I just had that charging bull look. I’m not smiling. I’m not breathing. I look like I’m being led to a guillotine … .”

Since he wasn’t personally inclined to perform a ballroom dance before a large audience, Father Pfaff chose to do so for a higher reason.

He did it to support the broader community in Shelby County.

The dance was part of “Dancing with the Shelby County Stars” on Nov. 8 at the Indiana Grand Racing and Casino in Shelby County.

Proceeds from the event benefitted two community organizations in Shelby County—Shelby Senior Services Inc. and Shelby County Players.

Shelby Senior Services is a non-profit community organization that helps older residents of Shelby County by providing transportation, caregiver support, legal information and health promotion.

Shelby County Players is also a non-profit organization. It operates The Strand, a community theater in Shelbyville and produces theatrical productions for the broader community.

“It’s very easy to get focused on your flock,” said Father Pfaff, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville and sacramental minister of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Shelby County. “I wanted to do something for the greater community and I knew that this would be a good opportunity to do that.”

When Father Pfaff was initially asked if he would be willing to help the community by dancing, he really didn’t want to, but said he would only if Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin gave his permission—something he didn’t expect to happen. When the archbishop “gave the green light,” Father Pfaff knew that he was stuck.

“I felt like Jeremiah. I had been duped and I had let myself be duped,” said Father Pfaff with a laugh, referring to Jeremiah 20:7.

St. Joseph parishioner Wendy Stephenson, a co-chair of the event and a member of the board of directors of Shelby Senior Services, was the person who asked him to be a dancer.

“I didn’t think there was any chance that he would say yes,” she said. “I was shocked that he was considering it. He’s a pretty quiet, shy guy.”

She was pleased when she learned that her pastor would be one of the event’s 10 dancers. That was because the primary way that the event raises funds is through donations made to show support for a particular dancer. She thought that many Catholics in Shelby County would get behind Father Pfaff, even though two other members of St. Joseph Parish were also chosen as dancers.

The dancer that raises the most in donations is considered the winner of the event. Father Pfaff was this year’s winner, bringing in $14,000.

In previous years, the largest amount given in support of a dancer had been $8,000.

“He touches lives, obviously, in our parish community every day,” Stephenson said. “But to get out and want to help in a broader way was humbling, I think, and very rewarding for him.”

“I’m happy for the community that I won,” said Father Pfaff said. “But I think there were a lot of sympathy votes thrown in there.”

Although only in its third year, “Dancing with the Shelby County Stars” has become a popular event. Its 400 tickets sold out in three hours, and approximately $100,000 was raised through the event for the two organizations.

Father Pfaff and the nine other dancers in the event worked with their partners for five months prior to “Dancing with the Shelby County Stars” to prepare their dances.

“Some of us contestants were comfortable dancing,” Father Pfaff said. “But many of us, myself included, were just naturally terrified.”

When the big night arrived, however, Father Pfaff courageously stepped onto the dance floor and performed the quickstep with Dooley, a dance enthusiast and special education teacher for Indianapolis Public Schools.

“Somehow, preservation mode kicks in and you simply execute what you’ve learned,” said Father Pfaff. “It’s hard to make it look like you’re enjoying it when you’re semi-panicked and trying to control everything and just executing the moves.” †

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