Craig Franklin, DVM, PhD, was focused. Beads of sweat had broken out along his temples, and the stern look on his face was only occasionally relieved by a brief smile. The University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine professor and director of graduate studies for the Comparative Medicine Program, looked intently at his jeans-clad legs reflected in the mirror running along the length of a dance studio.
“I am outside of my comfort zone ― big time,” he said.
Caitlin Sloan, a company member with the Missouri Contemporary Ballet in Columbia, patiently explained to Franklin that he was trying to put the wrong leg forward.
“My two left feet are getting in the way,” Franklin said.
The renowned scientist is typically found investigating the gut microbiota and its relationship to diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, cancer and multiple sclerosis, not practicing dance moves. However, his daughter, who majored in dance at Stephens College in Columbia, convinced him to help her friends at the ballet company with an annual fundraiser. Franklin is one of eight local celebrities from the community who have been paired with a professional dancer and given three months to learn two dances. They will then compete against each other at the 10th Annual Dancing with the Missouri Stars at the Holiday Inn Expo Center in Columbia.
Franklin said he had little dance experience before agreeing to the contest. He and his wife, Shelia, had taken a few lessons. Based on that brief experience, he told Sloan his least favorite dance styles were the waltz and foxtrot. Sloan, who is choreographing both of the team’s dances, selected a tango set to the “James Bond Theme,” and a jive that they will perform to a Queen song.
The two have been rehearsing the tango once a week. Franklin said between the weekly studio sessions, he practices his steps in his driveway.
“I learn the steps, and up next is learning the style. When we started putting it to music, the speed really picked up,” he said.
For Sloan, this is her third year participating in Dancing with the Missouri Stars. She said each of the partners she has coached has had a different method of learning the routine.
“Craig is really meticulous about writing down all of the steps,” she said. I haven’t had a partner who has done that before. He writes down everything and then goes home and practices, and by the next week he knows it and is ready to add more,” she said.
Once he has mastered the tango, they plan to start practicing the jive.
The contest will be held May 19. Franklin said there will be two awards: the Judges’ Choice Award based on overall points given by the panel of judges for dance performances and Overall Champion which is given to the team who raise the most money. Contestants are encouraged to hold fundraising events in advance of the actual dance contest. Franklin has several events planned, including a tailgate for the Mizzou spring football game on April 16, a Tie Dye Carnival April 17 at Rose Music Hall and an event May 1 at Logboat Brewing Company. The teams can add to their funds raised totals on the night of the contest by impressing audience members who are invited to cast votes for their favorite team votes costing $1 each.