Group dances tribute to former instructor
Those were the signature moves of Michelle (Chelle Cousins) Fortain, a 1979 Sheridan High grad who went on to choreograph the award-winning Spartanette Dance & Drill Team for seven years. Fortain died in January after a bout with pancreatic cancer, and the moves were incorporated into the parade performance as a tribute.
Susan Chamberlain hadn’t met Fortain, but knows her mother, Viamae McKnight of Sheridan. And she attended a reunion of the dance team last year that brought her into contact with many of Fortain’s former teammates.
“I was extremely impressed with the videos I saw and all they were able to accomplish,” she said.
Chamberlain learned about Fortain’s diagnosis about the same time her own nephew died of the same disease.
A member of the Phil Sheridan Days Committee, and creator of the “Sheridan, Oregon Hometown Past and Present” Facebook page,” she decided a tribute was in order. She put the word out about the idea of doing “Thriller,” which happened to be on her bucket list, and everything seemed to fall into place.
“I was so pleased,” she said. “I was so touched by my dancers. I was so fortunate to have so many very talented people willing to work to get this done.”
The troupe made sure McNight was there to see the tribute.
They included a picture of Fortain and banner noting the former drill team instructor. And Chamberlain said of McKnight, “She was touched.”
Laura “Boogie” Robertson, who teaches dance at the Tina Miller Community Center in Willamina, brought some priceless experience to the cause. Robertson was a professional dancer for years, and a member of the 1980s pop-lockin’ group, The L.A. City Rockers.
Becky Hasel, a former team member of Fortain’s, was able to participate, too.
The rest, Chamberlain said, were community members without formal dance experience. They now plan to continue dancing as a newly formed community dance troupe, she said, and to perform the “Thriller” routine at Willamina’s Old-Fashioned Fourth of July celebration.
Chamberlain said the group is already talking about performing a new song and dance at next year’s parade as well.