Emma Polen | Editor-in-Chief
Baylee Martin’s day job is news anchor on Wheeling West Virginia’s local station, WTRF. But last week, she rocked out to Taylor Swift on Ohio Valley’s “Dancing with the Stars” (DWTS) and won.
Martin graduated last spring from Duquesne and, working since last June at the station, was already considered a “local celebrity” for the “Dancing with the Stars” competition.
The event fundraises money for Avgastalevy Learning Center.
WTRF, Channel 7, is a sponsor for the event, and someone from the studio is picked as a local celebrity contestant every year. And this year, the station specifically chose Martin to compete.
“And, immediately, with no hesitation, my answer was yes,” Martin said. It’s always been her dream to be on the nationally-broadcast version of DWTS, and Martin was “thrilled, honored and excited.”
Unlike the traditional DWTS competition airing on ABC every year, the Ohio Valley competition takes place over the span of one night, where three couples of local celebrities and local pro dancers are awarded first, second, and third place for their performances. However, planning and practice didn’t happen overnight – it began at the beginning of September.
Martin met her pro-dance partner, Nathan Stark.
Stark is a ballroom dance instructor at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Pittsburgh, but this is the first time he was brought on as a “pro” for the Ohio Valley DWTS competition. He grew up dancing competitively, and dancing has always been his passion, Stark said.
From the start, Martin and Stark worked well together as a dancing duo.
“Every single time we were in practice, she was ready to run the dance over and over and over again,” Stark said.
When discussing what song to use for a quick-step/jive routine, the pair wanted to know what music made them feel the happiest, and to that, they both agreed, the answer was Taylor Swift. Martin channeled her earlier cheerleader days, saying the upbeat music and dance style selection was very much “pep-rally-ish.”
“This routine reflected both of our personalities very well,” said Stark.
They ultimately decided on “Shake it Off,” which Martin appreciated because of the tune’s message.
“You’re gonna have people who look down on you and who aren’t a fan of what you’re doing,” Martin said. “But the more you just keep letting it go and letting it roll off your back, and the further you’re gonna go.”
As far as the actual dancing, Martin said it was her first time doing ballroom dance, and also her first time doing any big moves or tumbles since high school.
Even with all of these “firsts” inside the choreography, Martin said she felt comfortable working with Stark to move past any worries she had about the routine.
“It really showed me just how much I can do because he was able to push me to get over being scared,” Martin said. “He was the best partner I could have asked for.”
“This whole experience opened up a whole new love for dance for her and, like, that’s another reason why I do what I do,” Stark said. “I also made a lifelong friend out of this.”
That first meeting in September was also where the order of dancers for the Ohio Valley competition was randomly decided. Everyone in the room was scared to get first. And then, that position went to Martin and Stark.
Stark began immediately brainstorming ways to bring the energy up for the show.
“We had to make sure that we did something that was impactful for the judges,” he said. “So that’s why we came up with the whole pep rally cheerleader theme to start off the show.”
In the end, though, the pair was happy to get the opportunity. By going first, “you don’t even really have time to get nervous,” Martin said.
Like the national DWTS competition, a camera crew came to film Martin and Stark’s rehearsal, but only for one day. But for the majority of the time, Martin documented the eight weeks of rehearsal herself, broadcasting it to her 344K followers on TikTok.
Martin’s TikTok page typically has to do content that shows the “behind the scenes” of being a news anchor. In the same way, documenting her DWTS journey was a way to show off her personality outside of on-air reporting, and make her experience fun for others, she said.
At the same time, recording her practices was part of a personal goal for Martin as well.
“I wanted to not only post for other people to see, but also for myself,” Martin said. “I wish I could go back and relive it every single day.”
In the end, Martin and Stark’s opening performance for the Ohio Valley DWTS competition earned them the first place trophy.
“We went out there and we did our best,” Martin said, appreciating the time she had with the other competitors as well.
“There’s so much talent in the Ohio Valley,” she said.
As the winners, Martin and Stark will get to repeat their first-place performance at next year’s competition, where Stark will also dance with another local celebrity for a chance to place.
Martin’s win marked the first winner for WTRF.
“Everyone has been so supportive throughout the entire journey,” she said. “I love my job and I love where I work and I could confidently say that and it’s because of the camaraderie and the people there that make it so special.”