Dancing with the Turlock Stars has quickly become a tradition within the city in less than a decade and local community figures will once again put their best feet forward in the name of philanthropy as the annual event prepares to celebrate its “sensational” sixth season.
“We’re blessed that it keeps growing significantly each year,” DWTTS Board President Kristin Bettencourt said. “When we first started I was hoping we’d have a five-year run, and now I’m hoping we have a 10-year run.”
2019 DANCING STARS AND PROS
Deanna Gonzales and Skyler Bazal
Geoff Powers and McKenzie Anderson
Donnie Swanson and Danielle Robinette choreographed by Liz Hallack
Kindrea Geiger and Kerry Rocha
Neil Cervenka and Gabrielle Forrest
Wanda Bonnell and Xavier Huerta
Dianna Bettencourt and Austin Plaa
Ian Riley and Kelsey Plaa
Madden Roberts and Amber Traini
Chaplain Robert Johnson and Christina Rhoads
Jeremy Levens and Amy Shamgochian
Jason Geiken and Andrea Massey
Justin Schuppert and Annette Langley
Simone Zipser partnered and Craig Pacheco choreographed by Jennifer Cullum
The event was the brainchild of Bettencourt and fellow DWTTS Board member Yvonne Geiger while watching the popular TV show “Dancing with the Stars.” Turlock’s version was launched in 2014 as a fundraiser for the Turlock Salvation Army, raising $34,000 for the nonprofit organization.
Since then, the show has gone on to raise over half a million dollars for several local charities.
In 2015, the event organizers founded Dancing with the Turlock Stars Inc. and raised $104,000 for both the Salvation Army and Covenant Care Hospice. In 2016, DWTTS added Jessica’s House as a third beneficiary and raised $154,000. In 2017, the event raised over $160,000 for the three charities, and last year DWTTS raised just over $197,000.
On Sunday, the 2019 “stars” were announced, along with the professional dancers who will choreograph and teach the novice dancers how to shimmy, waltz or tango their way to victory. Stars and their pros will meet frequently over the next 12 weeks to practice and perfect their routines before the big show on Sept. 21.
“Every year, you fall in love all over again with each new cast,” Bettencourt said. “This year, all of our stars have really big personalities, so I think it’s going to be super fun and they’ll bring an anything-goes approach and attitude to the show.”
The show will feature for the first time this year its first stars associated with Stanislaus State in retired academic counselor Wanda Bonnell and administrator Jason Geiken, as well as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Army Recruiter and Staff Sergeant Jeremy Levens.
The Turlock Police Department will be represented in the event by Lt. Neil Cervenka, who said he was inspired to dance for philanthropic reasons, though his only dancing experience consists of the two-step and line dancing. While he’s encountered countless frightening scenarios on the job, he said, nothing has been as terrifying as the idea of performing on stage.
“This is way scarier than being a cop,” Cervenka said. “I’d much rather be in a dark alleyway with a robber.”
Professional dancer Skyler Bazal, who most recently served as a mentor for DWTTS during its third season in 2016, said that a connection between the pro and star is key. This year he’s paired with flight attendant Deanna Gonzales and said he immediately began asking the important questions, like her taste in music.
“You have to spend time with them, get to know them and just see their personality, and music plays a big part in that,” Bazal said. “As a professional, it paints a picture of who this person is. If that type of music makes them want to move, then maybe we should stick to that style for our dance.”
Gonzales said she was inspired to dance in the competition because of her soft spot for Jessica’s House. As a flight attendant, however, she said she’d much rather be 10,000 feet high in the sky instead of performing on stage in front of her peers.
“I would say the stage is definitely scarier. I’m used to the turbulence, and I trust the pilots with my life,” Gonzales said. “[Bazal] is new to me, so we’ll see how this goes.”
Other notable stars include Madden Roberts and Ian Riley of KHOP @ 95.1’s morning show, Emanuel Medical Center Chaplain Robert Johnson and City of Turlock Planning Commissioner Geoff Powers, among others.
“It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of this — the comradery, the friendships,” Bazal said. “Once you start dancing with people and you get to know them, it really is a family. We are all here to support and help each other raise as much money as possible, have fun, spend time dancing and watch everything blossom into something greater.”
Tickets for DWTTS are $100 each or $1,200 to reserve a table for 10, and will go on sale on Aug. 8 at The Grand Cru, 130 W. Main St. Beginning the week of July 15, pink stars will be available for purchase at businesses around town for community members to vote for their favorite star. For more information, visit https://www.dancingwiththeturlockstars.com/. Those interested in sponsoring the event can contact Bettencourt at 209-815-3731.