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Burly former Duluth police chief proves nimble on dance floor

Former Duluth police Chief Scott Lyons and ballerina Suzie Baer dance the quickstep earlier this week at the Minnesota Ballet's Grain Exchange studio. The two were rehearsing for tonight's Celebrity Dance Challenge. [Bob King /]

For weeks, former Duluth police chief Scott Lyons has been carrying around a yellow legal pad filled with choreography notes.

Spare moments have him reviewing the quick-step routine he'll perform tonight with ballet dancer Suzie Baer at the Celebrity Dance Challenge. "Of course they get the 300-pound, 56-year-old guy to do the fastest dance," Lyons joked after practicing last week as he changed out of his dancing shoes after a morning practice at the Grain Exchange. "There's no repetition until the last minute," he added, pointing to his notes.

The third annual event is a fundraiser for the Minnesota Ballet and will feature 11 local celebrities partnered with the professionals in a competition for titles like "best use of rhythm" and "highest level of difficulty."

The show starts at 7 p.m. at Marshall School's Fregeau Auditorium, 1215 Rice Lake Road. Tickets are $18 for adults, $12 for students and children. They can be purchased online at, at the Minnesota Ballet Box Office, 301 W. First St., Suite 800, or by calling 529-3742.

Lyons and Baer will perform to the song "Don't Mess With Me" by James P. Johnson. They have been practicing since just after "The Nutcracker" season ended.

For Baer, at 5-foot-7 the tallest of the dancers at the Minnesota Ballet, performing with the 6-foot, 3½-inch Lyons has been a pleasant change. Also:

"He doesn't step on my feet, he's really enthusiastic, and plus he wants to win," she said.

Embracing the spirit of competition, Lyons has his eye on another dance team.

In this corner, Zach "Jungle Boy" Walters, the boxer out of Horton's Gym who is simultaneously training for the North American Boxing Association U.S. Light Heavyweight Championship on Feb. 20 in New York City against Byron "Slama from Bama" Mitchell.

During his down time, Walters has been prepping to perform a cha-cha to the song "Keep Bleeding" by Leona Lewis with ballet dancer Kaori Takai.

The routine finds the graceful Takai coyly eluding Walters, who chases her around the dance floor until they meet up and dance. Walters credits Takai with making the dance work. (Look closely and you will see that she is leading).

"It's a fun competition," Walters said. "I just remind myself that no one's going to get hurt."

The duo is scheduled to perform last. In Walters' parlance, it could be considered "the main event."

In addition to Walters and Lyons, other dancers include meteorologist Shannon Murphy; B105 morning host Ken Hayes; Duluth Superior magazine publisher Marti Buscaglia; novelist Ellen Baker; At Large Duluth City Councilor Jeff Anderson; vice president of JPG Advertising Group Pasha Parks; Scott Mellem, owner of Tile and Stone Company; Patty Salo Downs, executive director of Alworth Memorial Fund; and Buckley Simmons, business manager at Krenzen. The event will be emceed by Pat Kelly, who performed the first year and "brought down the house," according to artistic director Robert Gardner.

The Celebrity Dance Competition was created in 2006, following the popularity of reality television programs like "Dancing with the Stars."

"As professional dancers, we are in an isolated world in a studio, not in the greater community," Gardner said. "It's great for us to meet these people and broaden our experience and broaden their experience."

In an unfortunate twist of events, Lyons' father, Reynold, died Saturday and his funeral was Wednesday. Though he missed the dress rehearsal, he has vowed to be there for tonight's performance.

"[Scott Lyons] has put in the time and he's been generous with us during this hard time," Gardner said.