2012-03-01 / Arts & Entertainment News

Dancing with the Stars

Charlotte stars showcase talent to benefit Arts & Humanities Council

If you’ve never been to the “Dancing with the Charlotte Stars” fundraiser for the Arts & Humanities Council of Charlotte County, we have one word for you: Go.

With good reason, Dancing with the Charlotte Stars, now in its fourth year, has been dubbed the most fun fundraiser in Charlotte County.

On the surface, it’s a dance competition featuring familiar faces in the community paired with trained dancers. Dancing couples vie for a number of prizes, including People’s Choice, awarded to the team bringing in the biggest bucks for the Arts & Humanities Council, the nonprofit “chamber of the arts,” which support the arts, artists and art lovers.

But behind the scenes, it’s all about greed (it’s a fundraiser)… cutthroat rivalry (it’s a competition)… and gluttony (it’s a dinner).

The formula works because we love the stars, we respect the trained dancers and we love to be entertained and laugh all night long for a great cause.

Rolando Cabrera and Donna Barrett 
COURTESY PHOTO Rolando Cabrera and Donna Barrett COURTESY PHOTO Like the hit TV show, there are judges with latitude and emcees with attitude. Unlike the TV show, there’s a nonprofit with gratitude — for an allvolunteer cast of community characters who gather for a good time and for a good cause. Since its inception in 2009, the event’s proceeds have grown from $7,000 to $17,000. This year’s goal is upwards of $20,000.

Volunteer masters of ceremony and judges make sure the audience is entertained when the dancers aren’t dancing. They provide essential “pithy” comments, anecdotes and nonsense to keep the show moving along. Boogie- Men leader Mike Riley and judge (and inaugural DWTS winner) Cort Frohlich are sure to take the lead in the banter.

The planning committee has seen to it that there are enough emcees to go around this year, with three masters of ceremony handling the floor (Becky Bovell), the stage (Jeff Collins, “The Golden Hippo”) and points in between (Mr. Riley, this year’s roving emcee).

DUFFY DUFFY The panel of judges is made up of two lawyers, a county commissioner and a newspaper editor. Ed Wotitzky, Tricia Duffy, Cort Frohlich and yours truly will sit shoulder to shoulder, sharing a single microphone and a plethora of varying opinions.

Hard as it is to believe, it’s not all about the emcees and judges.

Each of the celebrity dancers, listed below, has revealed a little bit about themselves and their passions.

• Donna Barrett, Cultural Center marketing manager

“When I was just a little girl, Daddy used to blast 8-track recordings in our basement and I would dance around to the greatest hits of The Beatles and Blondie. I loved the way the music ran through my veins...”

DESGUIN DESGUIN • Maralyn Belliveau, Sun-Country Décor & Fabrics owner

“Born in Boston to Polish parents, I was meant to dance. Every holiday was an occasion to roll up the rug and put on the polka music. As a teenager, I loved to twist, mash potato, swim, jitterbug or just hang and sway…”

• Frank Desguin, Charlotte County property appraiser

Frank is still waiting for Mike Riley to play the “Hokey Pokey” — the only thing he says he can dance to.

• Jason Green, Weiler engineering planning manager

Filled with a passion for competition, Jason spent his days engaged in various athletic efforts. One of his coaches said, “It’s all in the footwork.” Dancing with the Charlotte Stars is an opportunity to complete a stellar life of fancy footwork and booty shaking. (It certainly helped woo his wife, Liz.)

Mike Riley, Cort Frohlich and Ed Wotitzky 
KATHY GREY / FLORIDA WEEKLY Mike Riley, Cort Frohlich and Ed Wotitzky KATHY GREY / FLORIDA WEEKLY • Stacy Jones, community cooridinator for Kays-Ponger & Uselton Funeral Homes

Stacy is an avid outdoorswoman and enjoys cooking for all to enjoy. (We’re thinking Stacy will perform after she gets done serving dinner.)

• Ralph Yankwitt, senior fiancial advisor for The Yankwitt Group

Ralph Yankwitt will offer the audience a thrilling combination of newly acquired dance skills and his longstanding thespian abilities in “A Theatrical Time Lapse,” which he’ll perform with his dance partner, Kathleen Candales.

JONES JONES These contestants will perform with dancing pros from Higher Ground Performing Arts Studio, Florida Dance Workshop and Arthur Murray Dance Studio. The professional dancers have selflessly donated rehearsal time to benefit the Arts & Humanities Council. The dancing pros are Louis Brady, Melissa Bucci, Rolando Cabrera, Nikki Blazekovic, Chuck Cunningham and Kathleen Candales.

Arts & Humanities executive director Judy Malbuisson plans to spend her time on the sidelines of the event, making sure guests are comfortable, happy and having fun.

“We’re the chamber of the arts,” Ms. Malbuisson says. “If anyone knows what a chamber of commerce is and does, that’s what we do — for the arts.

We’re here to support arts and cultural organizations of all types and help the public further their appreciation of the arts. We’re also here to point people in the right direction.”

When a caller asks about plays being performed locally, the Arts & Humanities Council has the answer. When an employer needs a graphic artist or a mother of the bride needs a calligrapher for invitations, the council is there to refer and to guide.

And the council offers support and logistics for major community events, including assistance for the 2013 celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Conquistadores’ landing in Charlotte County.

Perhaps the council’s most concerted coupling of arts and humanities is played out in its art therapy workshops for caregivers of people suffering from dementia.

“We train staff members, volunteer artists and caregivers to use art with loved ones to help draw out memories.”

Many times, people suffering from dementia can’t communicate traditionally, she says, “But with art, you can create a conversation.”

The council’s first workbook on the process will be published for its classroom purposes in the next few weeks, thanks to help from the Charlotte Community Foundation and James Abraham, Bookbroker, who has been instrumental in readying the text for publication. Call the Arts & Humanities Council for upcoming trainings on the topic.

At the Dancing with the Charlotte Stars event, state trooper Jeff Hause will stand guard over cash and checks rolling in as supporters vote for their favorite dancers with their money.

Dancing with the Charlotte Stars is a let-down-your-hair reason to get dressed up and go out for a cause. It’s a celebration of culture only Charlotte County can pull off so well and with so much fun.

At risk of repeating ourselves, we have one word for this event: Go.

Dancing with the Charlotte Stars takes place at 6 p.m. Friday, March 2, at the Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center, 75 Taylor St., Punta Gorda. Tickets include dinner and are $70 per person. Donations and absentee ballots accepted at www.charlottearts.org. Call 764-8100 for tickets and information. ¦

What the emcees said

>> Emcee Becky Bovell: “The Arts & Humanities Council is so important. I’ve really
been looking forward to this.”
>> Emcee Jeff Collins: “But now that Riley’s
in it, she’s changed her mind.”
>> Emcee Mike Riley: “I’m just looking
forward to making fun of everybody.”
>> DWTS chair Bob Dickinson: “I hope you
won’t be saying anything about me.”
>> Emcee Mike Riley: “Bob, you’re my first
>> Emcee Becky Bovell: “It’s the most fun
event. It’s all for a good cause and it’s different from the rest.”
>> Emcee Jeff Collins: “Last year, I was
doing a wedding next door.”
>> Emcee Becky Bovell: “I’m a rose
between two thorns.”

What was said about the emcees

>> Judge Cort Frohlich: “Mike Riley is only
doing this in order to … award the Mike
Riley Community Service Award to himself,
Mike Riley, once again.”
>> Judge Cort Frohlich: “As for my radio
show co-host Jeff Collins, I am sure he will
play golf that day as he does every day, and
I am equally sure that he will make a stop
at the 19th hole.”

What the judges said

>> Judge Cort Frohlich: “Ed Wotitzky brings
to mind the old adage, “If you can’t dance,
judge.’ As we all know, he tends to stammer when he gets nervous. I anticipate that
he will not be able to announce any score
in less than five minutes, more likely 10,
and therefore the event should last well
past midnight.”
>> Judge Cort Frohlich: “Tricia Duffy has
me worried. As we all know, Republicans
have difficulty counting votes. Just ask Al
>> Judge Tricia Duffy: “If I can think of
something appropriate, I will let you know.”
>> Judge Cort Frohlich: “I am looking
forward to the event and, of course, intend
to graciously accept my induction into
the initial class of the Dancing with the
Charlotte Stars Hall of Fame, while also
acknowledging my vanquished foes, one or
two of whom I understand are still alive.”

What dancer Donna Barrett said

>> “I have two left feet, but hopefully a lot of
>> “It’s hard to compete with Frank Desguin
since (judge) Ed Wotitzky used to change
his diapers.”
>> “Being that the sheriff is one of my cheerleaders, I can’t do anything that’ll get me
>> “My fear is this: I’m a white girl. There is
no movement in this body and I’ve put on
a couple of pounds over the years. I’m not
Gumby, as my partner seems to think I am.
This has been one of my biggest undertakings, but the most enjoyable.”

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