It's that time of year again when a few notable local folks put on their dancing shoes for a good cause. Dancing at the Stars returns to the downtown theater this weekend with a new crop of performers and a brand-new alumni dance in celebration of its fifth year.
The annual fundraiser pairs local celebrities with choreographers for a "Dancing With the Stars"-style competition. Last year's event raised a record $51,000 for the theater, and this year's competition is poised to perform with the addition of an "encore" performance on Sunday after winners are named on Saturday.
Vying for the star trophies is an exciting mix of contestants from all walks of life including Ward 2 City Councilman Andrae Gonzales, who is dancing with DATS-alum choreographer Marnie Forzetting.
Aware that two fellow councilmen — Willie Rivera and Chris Parlier — had competed in the past, Gonzales said he felt compelled to also do his part.
"I thought it was important to participate. It's a great cause, a great downtown establishment and I wanted to do what I could to support them."
When asked last year he had too many commitments but he was on board this year. He and Forzetting have had at least a dozen rehearsals but he said he's still nervous.
"I enjoy dancing just for fun and at family functions or when I'm at parties but I'm not the best dancer," he said. "And this is very different because this is a performance."
Fellow competitor Julia Kiuftis is feeling a bit more confident going into this weekend. The Mrs. Bakersfield 2019 has the added distinction of being part of the event's first duo of all women.
Although she had initially counted on having a strong dance partner leading her through the routine, Kiuftis said she was thrilled to work with choreographer Bethany Rowlee for a number set to "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend."
"Being two girls dancing, it made me feel like a kid again, dancing with my sister," Kiuftus said. "We’ve had a ton of fun. She's really taken all my ideas and embraced them."
That includes sparkly things, some glam and lots of girly touches.
She said, "There's no guy saying, 'Oh, that's too much pink.'"
Also competing this year: Robin Mangarin-Scott, former news anchor and vice president of strategic marketing/communications at Dignity Health, with Cody Garcia; KGET 17 news anchor Tami Mlcoch with Roland Brown; attorney Mai Shawwa with David Moreno; Tim Terrio, founder/president of Terrio Physical Therapy and Fitness, with Marilyn Stone; teacher Roberto DeLeon and Ann Conrad; and Robin Paggi, a training and development specialist for Worklogic HR, with Mike Audie.
The winning team and two runners-up will be determined by a four-point system: pre-show voting both online and at the theater, event ticket-holder ballots and official judging. Facebook has fanned the flames of competition as contestants urge supporters to cast online votes ($1 each) leading up to the finals.
In addition to the competition, DATS alumni from the past four events will perform a group number choreographed by Garcia and Danielle Humphrey. (Full disclosure: I'm among those DATS alumni.) Others performing are "season" winners David Torres, Lyle Martin, Lisa Krch and Marianne Keathley along with Andrea Kohler, Boyd Binninger, Tara Deal, Lisa Kimble, Chris Hoover, Karen DeWalt, Elliott Magnus and Monsignor Craig Harrison, who will also emcee the show.
A few former dancers who were unable to be in the number will help with front of house, including bartending. Keep an eye out for Robert Price, Scott Winkler, Jeff Green and Willie Rivera.
Going into the event weekend, Kiuftis could be speaking for all the dancers with her current mind-set.
"I've done the work, I've practiced the dance, stepped out of my comfort zone. All there is left to do is enjoy the experience and have fun with it."
And if you ever have the opportunity for a dance or some other chance to test your skills, she says don't pass it up.
"In life we don't have many chances to do something that might seem a little bit silly," she said. "It's very easy to take yourself seriously all of the time. I encourage everyone to say 'yes' and to just go for it."