Dancing with the Stars raises $116K for Mentor RI

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An event has never been more aptly named than last Thursday night’s 12th annual “Dancing with the Stars of Mentoring” event.

The fun-filled, star-studded event, held at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston, brought in 620 people who helped raise a net of over $115,000 for Mentor Rhode Island, which will allow them to continue their mission of providing mentors for children across their coverage area who need them. The event has, to date, raised over $1 million for the nonprofit.

Mentor Rhode Island’s fundraising extravaganza takes eight individuals from around the state who have little to no experience dancing and pairs them with professionals from Warwick’s dance studio The Dancing Feeling. Dancers have 10 weeks to prepare a routine and are judged on the entertainment level, technicality and overall “wow” factor of their performances.

Stars were the theme and the audience was treated to a glittering opening performance, “Our Star Among Us,” dedicated in the memory of Glen Badessa, the late partner to perennial event host and NBC 10 weekend anchor Mario Hilario. A group of about 25 dancers wielded stars and performed a synchronized routine to Madonna’s “Lucky Star.” Emotions were palpable afterwards as Hilario thanked everybody involved who help pay homage to Badessa.

Throughout the next couple of hours, each dancing pair had only a few minutes – the culmination of training that begins in January – to dazzle the judges and attendees in the hopes of winning various distinctions and, of course, raising money for Mentor RI.

Doug Schobel of Delta Dental and Deborah O’Donnell started the show off with a pop infused, explosively energetic opening number which incorporated popular dance routines from about 10 top 40 hits from throughout the past few decades, including MC Hammer, NSYNC, Ricky Martin and Beyonce.

There was little question that it was the right choice to begin the night of dances, as the duo injected life into the crowd through their vivacious smiles and a frenetic routine that could accurately, and in good humor, be described as if that one uncle who often indulges too much at weddings prior to hitting the dance floor had actually taken professional lessons.

"If I was ever out on the dance floor and wanted to have a good time, I'd want you to be my dance partner," said Roxana Herzog, professional ballroom dancer and judge. Schobel and O'Donnell's routine would win the Most Entertaining award at the end of the night.

Next up was jack-of-all-trades media personality Debbie Rich and Randy Deats, co-director of The Dancing Feeling. A nostalgic blend of some of the Beatles’ greatest hits underscored a classy performance, which took the crowd from pondering about being 64 to twisting and shouting with joy.

"That was a lot of choreography and many different styles and you smiled the whole time,” Herzog said to Rich. “You are a winner."

Angela Ciresi, who was urged to volunteer as a dancer by her patients from Ciresi Chiropractic, was up next with her partner, Noah Carsten. The two performed an elegant dance incorporating tango, hustle and cha cha styles, among others. A red and black theme added a stylistic flair to the performance.

Blending a swingy, slow version of Lady Gaga’s mega-hit “Poker Face” with the well-known, fast-paced pop version Meredith Gregory (from Amica Insurance) and Josh Morgenstein paired up to put on a glittering performance filled with gold sequins and even an impressive lift to end the performance. Gregory commented on how quickly many weeks of training had culminated into a performance so seemingly short.

“Are we gonna do it again?” she asked with a smile.

Raising the most money of the night from audience donations, earning them the “Peoples’ Choice” award, was Dana Goldberg of Textron and her partner Anthony Scalzi. The dance was set to David Bowie’s “Fame” and blue show lights accented a glamorous blue outfit donned by Goldberg. The dance gathered $15,488 from those in attendance, and the cheering section for Goldberg, vice president of tax for the Providence-based tech company, was quite audibly present.

Costume of the night (an unofficial title given by this author) went to Kurt Harrington, owner of Something Fishy aquarium services in Warwick, who donned an all-red tuxedo and made a big splash with his partner Rachel Capodanno as they did an appropriately sea-themed dance to “The Little Mermaid’s” famous melodic song, “Under the Sea.”

Paying homage to Bruce Springsteen was Joe Bradlee, director of communications and community outreach for the Pawtucket Red Sox, and his partner Briana Crowley. Bradlee opened with the iconic, jean-clad behind shake made famous by The Boss himself and made his friends from the Paw Sox proud as he led Crowley through a rock-inspired dance that incorporated some of Springsteen’s most famous work.

Last, but certainly not least (as they would go on to win the Judge’s Choice award for best technical routine) was Linda Warren of Bank of America and Noah Carsten. The routine ended the evening of dances on a classy, jazzy note as Warren and Carsten performed a slow but technically pristine routine to "All that Jazz," with plenty of jazz hands thrown in throughout.

The routine rendered professional dancer Herzog into a shocked state of emotion.

"I'm speechless," she said, dabbing tears. "I think you left it all out there on the floor."

Mentor Rhode Island’s executive director Jo-Ann Schofield said that the night was their highest grossing fundraising event in history.

“The energy in the room was palpable. It was like the whole night was choreographed from start to finish,” she said. “We are so proud of the team that pulls this all together!  We have built so many strong relationships with our partners who return year after year to contribute to the success of Dancing with the Stars of Mentoring.”

Money from the event was raised through ticket sales, silent auction items (organized by Coastway Community Bank) including one-of-a-kind sports memorabilia and vacation packages, selling bottles of wine (coordinated by Washington Trust) and, most importantly, through the money raised by dancers and attendees voting for the dancing duo who most inspired or amazed them.

Schofield said that building that network of collaborators and contributors is what has allowed for the success they have enjoyed each year through the event.

“We always say 'it’s all about relationships.' This event exemplifies the importance of building that community,” she said. “And the best part is that the relationships developed through the event translates into caring adult relationships for kids, who are the real winners here.”

The full panel of judges included Amy Pontes from Lite Rock 105, Brendan Ahearn from Autodesk and a Mentor Rhode Island board member and Roxana Herzog. Lite Rock 105’s Heather Gersten served alongside Hilario as master of ceremonies.

“You have to appreciate being in a place you rip off your skirt and everyone cheers,” Gersten said in the funniest comment of the night after Dana Goldberg’s performance. “At the bank you do it and everyone thinks you're weird.”

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