Fourteen teams took to the stage Saturday night and delighted a capacity crowd with deep dives, big lifts, fancy footwork and, most importantly, raised some much-needed funds for three local charities.
For the sixth year in a row, Dancing With the Turlock Stars was a sold-out event and once again it amassed an impressive tally of donations that will be going to Jessica’s House, The Salvation Army and Covenant Care at Home. All total, the fundraiser cleared an estimated $160,000, said DWTTS President Kristin Bettencourt.
“The comradery of this year’s stars was awesome,” Bettencourt said. “They all truly took to heart what was said in the beginning about DWTTS being a family. They really supported each other throughout the journey and kept their competitive spirits friendly. We were thrilled to have the Army involved this year, as well as Stan State and PG&E — all new entities to Dancing with the Turlock Stars.
“My Board and I are truly grateful to every single person involved — vendors, volunteers, pros, stars, emcees, judges, production, sponsors, guests and everyone who voted for and supported our stars. This community is like no other,” Bettencourt said.
For this year Dancing With the Turlock Stars organizers returned to their roots by partnering a local celebrity with a professional dancer, except in the case of one team, which had two stars and were choreographed by a professional.
The Mirror Ball Championship trophy, which is awarded to the team that raised the most money for the nonprofits, went to Dianna Bettencourt and her partner Austin Plaa. Dianna Bettencourt led a fundraising effort that brought in more than $31,000 in donations, which is the most money raised by any one competitor in any of the DWTTS seasons. Bettencourt is the vice president branch manager of Oak Valley Community Bank in Turlock and volunteers her time with several community organizations, including the Salvation Army Advisory Board and California Women for Agriculture.
Raising the record-breaking amount of funds was a goal Dianna Bettencourt had in her sights from the very moments she agreed to participate in this season of DWTTS.
“It’s exactly what my plan was,” Dianna Bettencourt said. “I serve on the Salvation Army Board and it’s really tough to go to the meetings and say we don’t have enough money for the services that are needed. I told them that I was going to be the one to raise the most money ever. Not just this year.”
Dianna Bettencourt said she formed a fundraising committee of family and friends and from there “it just took off.”
Plaa is the process improvement manager at Hilmar Cheese, and only became a “professional” dancer four years ago after competing as a star in DWTTS in 2015. It was there that he met his wife, choreographer Kelsey Plaa, who was competing against this season though she did choreograph the “Aladdin” routine for her husband and Dianna Bettencourt.
“Pro is a very loosely stated term,” Plaa said. “I’m just the guy who listens to my beautiful wife, who is the choreographer and that makes it easy to do fun things on stage for people.”
The Mirror Ball Championship trophy wasn’t the only award the duo would hoist Saturday night. They won the Excellent Showmanship award, which is giving to the team that overall puts on the best performance. The duo performed to a medley of songs from “Aladdin” that included Plaa transforming from Aladdin to the genie and the use of a magic carpet.
The team of professional dancer Amy Shamgochian and Staff Sgt. Jeremy Levens laid claim to the Judges’ Choice award with their swing routine to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” The award is giving to the team with the best dance performance and Shamgochian and Levens earned it with their high-energy and athletic routine.
“You always want to start out easy because you never know what your partner will be able to handle,” Shamgochian said. “I just increased it every time and made it harder and harder and he was able to keep up.”
Shamgochian is a registered nurse at Emanuel Medical Center. She has been a dancer since she was four years old and previously taught dance at the Deborah Morgan Dance Studio.
Levens has traveled the world since enlisting in the Army during his third year of college. He served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and is currently the Deputy Station Commander at the Turlock Army Recruiting Center.
“I’m super competitive and want to win at everything I do, but this whole event has been so inspiring,” Levens said.
Levens was bolstered by a supportive contingency of Army buddies who came to cheer him on.
“The Army is this global thing and to think the Army is supportive of me here in Turlock … It’s just amazing. To know they are behind me makes me want to give so much more,” Levens said.
The Style Icon award went to Robert Johnson and Christina Rhoads, who performed a routine to “Hey Big Spender” decked out in zoot suit inspired garb. Johnson is the chaplain at Emanuel Medical Center and Rhoads teaches at Backstage Academy of Dance in Turlock.
Turlock Police Lt. Neil Cervenka and his partner Gabrielle Forrest from Alegria Ballroom Dance Academy won the Outstanding Choreography award for a waltz set to Sarah McLachlan’s “In the Arms of an Angel” and dedicated to fallen Newman Police Department Cpl. Ronil Singh. The routine, which ended with a video of Singh playing with his young son, earned a standing ovation from the audience.
“It was truly a fitting tribute,” said Turlock Journal Editor Kristina Hacker, who served as one of the three judges for the night’s festivities. “You could tell there was a lot of hard work and effort put into your routine.”
The Fred and Ginger award was given to the team that best embodies the iconic dancing duo and this year it went to Donnie Swanson and Danielle Robinette. They danced a high-energy tango that was choreographed by Liz Hallack. Swanson is the Dean of Students at Turlock High School and Robinette is the owner of Ripon Academy of Dance.
“It was so classy and on point,” said judge Nate Straubringer. “I really couldn’t tell who was the professional and who was the star.”