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Legislator Coleman a 'star' at dancing fundraiser

Photo: Andrew McMurtrie State Rep. Brooks Coleman of Duluth practices his dance moves with his instructor Amber Reich at Academy Ballroom in Atlanta. Coleman is participating in the American Cancer Societyis Crusaderis Ball as part of the Dance with the Stars of Atlanta theme. This is the 37th year for the ACS Crusaderis Ball and the 3rd year for the Dance with the Stars of Atlanta theme. The event hopes to raise over $100,000 for cancer services and research. 

Photo: Andrew McMurtrie State Rep. Brooks Coleman of Duluth practices his dance moves with his instructor Amber Reich at Academy Ballroom in Atlanta. Coleman is participating in the American Cancer Societyis Crusaderis Ball as part of the Dance with the Stars of Atlanta theme. This is the 37th year for the ACS Crusaderis Ball and the 3rd year for the Dance with the Stars of Atlanta theme. The event hopes to raise over $100,000 for cancer services and research. 

ATLANTA -- Two decades of tap dancing through the political arena at the State Capitol has done little to prepare Brooks Coleman for an actual performance on the dance floor.

This weekend, the Duluth state representative who heads the House Education Committee will turn to swing and the waltz, performing at the American Cancer Society's Crusader's Ball as part of the Dance with the Stars of Atlanta theme.

"The waltz is giving me a fit right now, but I'm going to conquer it," Coleman said, taking a break from rehearsals last week.

The sentiment is similar to the one his family had three years ago, when he suffered a heart attack not long after his wife Mary Claire was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Both came out on top, and that is why Coleman, a long-time auctioneer at the American Cancer Society ball, decided to try his turn at dancing for the cause.

"I love to dance, but now I've learned the proper way to dance," said Coleman, who found himself slipping back to the jitterbug of his high school days when he practiced his swing routine to "Do You Love Me?" "I was thrilled to be a part of it because it's not only fun and entertaining but it helps make people aware of cancer."

Coleman, a former educator who now makes the rounds as a motivational speaker, is well-known around the Capitol for his sense of humor.

That popularity, organizers hope, could translate into big donations, with expectations that Saturday's ball could raise more than $100,000 for cancer services and research.

"ACS is thrilled to have Brooks join us this year," said Lucy Faxon of the organization. "He is a staple in the community with such a broad reach from his obvious political role, to education and to so many community events and groups."

Gwinnett Commissioner Shirley Lasseter and Judge Melodie Snell Conner are also dancing at the event. Chamber of Commerce President Jim Maran signed up to help, but injured himself and had to bow out.

"All of the dancers are such an important part of the ACS as well as the community," said Lisa Allee, who is a co-chair of the event. "We are hoping that this event continues to grow every year so that we can continue to strive to find a cure for cancer as well as continuing to provide better treatment for those that are going through the disease. It is such a daily battle. We all have been touched by cancer either by ourselves and/or by knowing someone who has fought the battle and lost or who is currently fighting the battle. It is our hope and desire that someday we will be able to say that the purpose of ACS is to continue to cure cancer and make it a thing of the past."

For Coleman, the rehearsals and sore muscles have been worth the effort.

He had expected making time for lessons at Academy Ballroom would be the hardest part of the venture, but instead, he's looked forward to his rehearsals with partner Amber Reich.

The toughest part, he said, is to keep the posture of a dancer.

Reich "promised me that I'll grow 2 inches in height," Coleman laughed. "I promised I'd wear a coat hanger."

Physically, he said, dancing is an even better workout than the physical therapy Coleman began after his heart attack. But it has helped the 71-year-old, who will celebrate another birthday next week, strengthen his legs, knees and spine.

"This is something I've been thinking I really want to continue," he said.

For Saturday's big event, Reich choreographed a routine to suit Coleman's playful personality.

"We've had a fun time," Reich said of donating her time to teach him. "It's going to be a fun night."

The 37th year for the ACS Crusader's Ball is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at the Tommy P. Hughes Ballroom at the Gwinnett Center on Sugarloaf Parkway. Tickets, which are $125, can be purchased at the door or online at dancewithstarsatlanta.org. Attire is black-tie optional.