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Turlocks dancing stars rake in donations
Supervisor claims top prize, while dance-off settles family rivalry
dance pic 1
Diane Romeo and Xavier Huerta wowed the crowd with their waltz to Say Something - photo by JON MICHAEL TERRY/The Journal

As an elected official Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa is a pro at turning out the vote. It turns out he’s pretty good at stumping for votes for his dancing as well.

Chiesa, the District 2 Supervisor, has one new position to add to his resume: Winner of the Danicng with the Turlock Stars. He and partner Nicole Couto, hustled, bumped, and jived their way through a disco routine set to a medley of 70s era dance hits, but it was ability of the dance floor that earned him the grand prize. Chiesa was the star contestant that brought in the most votes, which in return boosted the overall donations to the Salvation Army and the Covenant Care Hospice.

The second installment of the incredibly popular fundraiser generated more than $100,000 in donations for the two nonprofits, more than tripling the amount raised last year, said the event’s Board President Kristin Bettencourt. The event, which drew in more than 1,100 spectators and 15 dancing couples, sold out of tickets in 57 minutes.

“Everyone has been saying how much fun it was and we are so pleased with what we were able to raise,” Bettencourt said. “It’s amazing.”

The event pairs local “stars” with dancers well-accustomed to performing. The grand prize is awarded to the star who brings in the most votes. The pairs are tasked with learning a dance routine over the course of eight weeks and campaigning for more and more votes. Each vote cost $10, which would tally up into donations.

Chiesa and Couto raised $9,020 in donations. They were followed by Joe Bernardi and Tatiana Nieves at $7,450; Ted Ayres and Stephanie Valgos at $6,560; Debi Agresti and Pedro Lara at $6,280; Austin Plaa and Liz Hallack at $5,870; and Patrick Jensen and Amber Traini at $4,070.

“These teams did so many great activities to raise funds,” Bettencourt said. “It was really close till up to about 15 minutes before the end of the night.”

The event also recognizes the skills on the dance floor and this year it was a down to the wire contest among several couples as to who would hoist the mirror ball trophy at the end of the night.

The early contenders for the title were the duo of professional dancer Amber Traini and star Patrick “Glass Boss” Jensen, whose mere introduction to the stage drew a raucous cheer from seemingly half of the room. Jensen is the owner of Paul’s Glass Company.

The pair started off their Jazz Jive routine to the slow tempo of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird,” but quickly upped the ante when the music switched to ZZ Tops “Sharp Dressed Man” and the couple kicked-ball-changed their way through a routine that had the crowd on their feet by the end of the last note.

The judges were impressed with the couples’ foot work and awarded them two scores of 9 each and two perfect scores of 10.

The judges’ feedback and the crowd support were enough to convince Jensen he had made the right decision in joining in the cast and following the lead of his partner, even if he did have some trepidation.

“I didn’t want to do this in the first place, but I got talked into it,” Jensen said.

Jensen and Traini were the team to beat when the duo of star Diane Romeo and pro Xavier Huerta took the stage to dance a waltz to “Say Something” by Great Big World. Romeo, wife of Dr. Mike Romeo, captivated the crowd in a stunning mint green gown that added to the drama of her twirls, spins, and deep dips on the stage.

The judges were impressed with the pair’s style, glamour, and all-around grace and awarded them two 9s and two 10s.

The pair of Jonathan Dravcecky and Mackenzie Shamgochian followed Romeo and Huerta and their hip hop performance to a mix of 90s rap classics made them the new contenders for the mirror ball trophy. The two were in such sync it was hard to say who was the pro and who was the star. (Dravecky, the CEO of Swenson Shear) was the star, just for clarification).

“We had one goal – beat Amy,” Dravecky said of their desire to top Amy Shamgochian, Mackenzie’s mother, last year’s winner of the dance prize, and a current competitor.

The judges agreed the couple had thrown down a challenge and had just given Amy Shamgochian “a run for her money.” The pair was awarded three 10s and one 9, which drew plenty of boos from the crowd.

There was plenty of anticipation when Amy Shamgochian and her partner Turlock fire fighter Paul Arai took the stage to see if they could deliver a routine just as good if not better than the one from Dravecky and Mackenzie Shamgochian. They didn’t disappoint. The couple danced a disco routine that included a staggering number of lifts and stunts that drew uproarious cheers from the crowd. The judges agreed and awarded the couple three 10s and one 9, the same as her daughter’s team.

It seemed dance couple Austin Plaa of Hilmar Cheese Company and dancer Liz Hallack might just sneak in and claim the title with their cleverly choreographed routine to the remixed version of Digital Underground’s “Humpty Dance.”  Their high energy and synchronized movements, including the “centipede” got the crowd on their feet and their fan base hoisting signs of support.

“He was phenomenal and determined every time he came in for rehearsals,” Hallack said of her partner.”

The judges were just enthused by the pair and awarded them 2 10s and 2 9s. It was one of the higher scores for the evening, but not enough to break the tie between the Shamgochians and their partners.

The stage was set for a dance-off and to the music of Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” the two teams had 30 seconds to shake, twerk, and bump their way into the top spot with the judges. Dravecky and Mackenzie Shamgochian earned the appreciation of the crowd and as it turned out the judges were equally impressed and awarded the pair the trophy for the best dance number.

The night included plenty of other awards for the teams. The Fred and Ginger Award was given to Romeo and Huerta. The Style Icon Award went to Aleece Martin and Ryan Thiel, for their Dancing with the Turlock Stars cheerleading uniforms. Outstanding Choreography was given to Amy Shamgochian and Arai. The Excellent Showmanship Award went to Jensen and Traini.