Turlock leaders willing to tango for a good cause

Thirteen pairs of civic leaders, educators and serious dancers get ready for pictures after the charity match-ups are announced on Thursday, July 7, 2016, in Turlock, Calif.
Thirteen pairs of civic leaders, educators and serious dancers get ready for pictures after the charity match-ups are announced on Thursday, July 7, 2016, in Turlock, Calif. naustin@modbee.com

Dancing With the Turlock Stars kicked off its third season Thursday night, pairing 13 serious dancers with 13 well-known Turlock folks willing to risk sore muscles and wounded pride to raise money for local charities.

Last year, the event raised more than $104,000. That now stands as the number to beat in a neighborly competition to benefit the Salvation Army, Covenant Care Hospice and Jessica’s House, a Turlock center to help children coping with loss.

Turlock Unified School District trustee Bob Weaver looked decidedly nervous before being announced as one of 13 community members stepping up to step out on stage after a few weeks’ practice with a new partner. Wife Donna Weaver said she prompted him to try it. “He’s been working out,” she said with a smile.

The 6-foot-4 board member will be dancing with one of the shorter dancers, Amy Shamgochian, on Sept. 17 in front of a crowd of 1,100. Tickets sold out in 57 minutes last year for the event, said Kristin Bettencourt, president of the nonprofit Dancing With the Turlock Stars.

“Our community has just embraced this so much. We are so lucky,” Bettencourt said.

The event started with Facebook. Bettencourt and friends were checking out posts and chatting online while watching the ABC hit show that pairs celebrities with professional dancers and lets the audience join in the judging. One comment led to another and, six weeks later, the first Dancing With the Turlock Stars twirled its way onto the local fundraising stage, raising $34,000 for the Salvation Army.

“We had no idea what we were doing,” she said with a chuckle.

Since those days, the event has formed its own nonprofit and ramped up its social media presence and website, www.dancingwiththeturlockstars.com. Contestants hold fundraisers and sponsors pitch in, but voting brings in the serious money, Bettencourt said. Votes cost $10 apiece, with $2,000 the single-buyer best.

The pressure’s on for the 2016 cohort to beat last year’s total and, of course, the other dancers. The rest of the cast is:

▪ Turlock High head of campus supervisors Patti Soiseth and professional dancer Fabian DeLeon

▪ Executive assistant to the Turlock city manager Stacey Tonarelli and pro dancer Xavier Huerta

▪ Emanuel Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Sue Micheletti and dancer Skyler Bazal

▪ Turlock police Officer Mayra Lewis and dancer Hector Gonzalez

▪ RoqFit gym owner Duraye Roque and dancer Mackenzie Shamgochian, a University of Oregon student

▪ Genetic Breeders owner Joseph Estacio, active in Turlock Pentecost Association, and Amber Traini of Sparks Dance/Gaslight Community Conservatory

▪ Turlock firefighter Cameron Kaiser and owner of Alegria Ballroom Dance Academy Gabrielle Aguiar-Forrest

▪ Turlock Education Foundation board member and local educator Isaias Rumayor, dancing with former Oakland Raiderette Stephanie Valgos

▪ Sacred Heart Catholic School teacher Kevin Crivelli and Powerhouse Dance Studio teacher Liz Hallack

▪ Rick Fetter and Attitude Plus! Dance Studio owner Danielle Robinette

▪ Sunrise Bakery operator Sargon Eddy and On Your Toes Dance Studio owner Nicole Couto

▪ Hilmar Cheese Co. manager Kyle Kaepernick and JAMZ Cheer and Dance program director Annette Langley

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin