When Bill Tilden of Old Rochester Regional took the Plymouth County Suicide Prevention Coalition informational class, it was an eye-opener on the scope and specter of the problem.
“It was very impactful,” the school’s athletic director recalled. “It was something that has been on my radar since.”
Of course, Tilden didn’t know that taking the class would eventually lead to the sight of him, dressed in a dramatic stage ensemble, dancing the waltz in front of a crowd that stood 200 strong.
But there he was, after 10 weeks of preparation, taking part in the “Dancing with the Dignitaries” event last Saturday night, finishing second overall and helping the night raise over $10,000.
He decided to participate at the urging of school nurse Kim Corazzini, who is heavily involved with the Plymouth County program. She wanted to have representation from the eastern end of the county and thought Tilden fit the bill.
“She is the kind of person that when she wants you to do something, you do it,” Tilden said. “She’s just got that type of effect on you.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Tilden thought it was going to go as well as it did. When it started, he just hoped that his athletic focus and work ethic would overcome a total lack of experience and talent.
“Am I a dancer? No, not at all. Basically, you’re just hoping not to embarrass yourself,” he said. “I guess I just said, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’”
Most of the contestants weren’t dancers either, so Tilden felt like everyone was in the same boat. “Really, none of us were known for hitting the dance floor.”
But as they worked individually and in groups with a dance instructor over 10 lessons, they got better – and they formed bonds.
“There were a couple guys that I’d run into pretty regular, and we really made connections that I think will last for a long time.”
On the night of the event, Tilden said he felt prepared – and, of course, he had members of ORR’s “Dog Pound” in the house to cheer (and maybe laugh a little).
“The Rochester Police Brotherhood covered a bus for us, and we had a bunch of kids that drove up too,” Tilden said. “We had a lot of the front row covered by the Dog Pound, loud and proud. They did the school an honor by how they carried themselves.”
Performing the waltz with his partner/trainer, Tilden won the “fan favorite” award while finishing second overall, and he went from total newbie to perfectionist by the end of the show. “There were definitely a couple of things that were off,” Tilden said, perhaps dreaming of his next performance. “Two spots, definitely, where I missed.”
Tilden is sure everyone came away from the event having had fun and coming together in a positive way around a dark and confusing issue. Tilden noted that two Old Rochester alums died from suicides in just the last few weeks, and he hopes that fundraisers like this one can make a difference.
“Everyone’s heart was in the right place to be there,” he said. “It was really an amazing night, and I think just keeping the subject of suicide prevention as a topic of conversation is important.”
Until Tilden’s pro dancing career takes off, however, it’s back to his day job.
But if you hear the strings and rhythm of the waltz drifting through the halls of ORR, don’t be surprised to see the AD, working on those moves he missed one more time.
By Jonathan Comey