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Turlock’s Dancing Stars
Couples prepare to compete for charity
DWTTS 2018 preview
The 2018 Dancing With the Turlock Stars couples and professionals were announced Thursday. This year’s benefit dance competition will be held Sept. 15 at Larsa Banquet Hall. Tickets go on sale Aug. 9. (Photo by Rachelle Heppner)

Local couples will once again put on their dancing shoes and compete for votes — all in the name of philanthropy — at the 5th annual Dancing With the Turlock Stars event.

“We are so excited about our fifth and fabulous year,” said DWTTS Board President Kristin Bettencourt.

The event was the brainchild of Bettencourt and fellow DWTTS Board member Yvonne Geiger while watching the popular TV show “Dancing With the Stars.” The Turlock version was launched in 2014 as a fundraiser for the Turlock Salvation Army, raising $34,000 for the nonprofit organization.

“There were some trusting and crazy people to get on board our first year,” said Bettencourt.

First year dancers included then-mayoral candidate Gary Soiseth, The Udder Place and Grand Cru owner Jerry Powell and Turlock High campus supervisor Rufus Keaton.

Powell said that while he is grateful for the funds the event has brought the Turlock Salvation Army over the years (he serves as a Board member for the SA), he will “never, never, ever” get on stage to dance again.

“I don’t like getting in front of people,” the downtown club owner said.

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.

On Thursday, the 2018 “stars” were announced, along with the professional dancers who will choreograph and teach the novice dancers their routines over the next nine weeks to be performed live on Sept. 15 at Larsa Banquet Hall.

“The couples this year are so diverse…it’s going to make for a super fun show,” said DWTTS Board member and the show’s producer, Amy Shamgochian.


Juan Alanis and Mercedes Wallace

Matt Cranford and Kristen Patterson

Matt and Candace Gonsalves

Matt and Renette Ulrich

Narcisco Flores and Lucia Aguiar

Bernard Souza and Kerri Carr

Rich and Terra Curiel

Connie Irish and Brittany Irish Smith

Nick Grillo and Shawnte Deutschke

Clark and Diana Hulbert

Patrick Kolasinski and Elzbieta Jarrett

Bryan and Erin Nelson

Denny Drake and Kathy Maldonado

Along with husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, this year there are mother-daughter, mother-son and best friend couples.

Turlock salon owner Connie Irish will be dancing with her daughter Brittany Irish Smith, medical sales rep and longtime youth, high school and college football official Rich Curiel will swing his daughter Terra around the dance floor and local attorney Patrick Kolasinski will be tripping the light fantastic with his mother Elzbieta Jarrett.

Kolasinski grew up in Denair and Hughson and currently lives in Modesto. He ran for Stanislaus County District Attorney in the June Primary Election and is a founding board member of Turlock’s Lightbox Theatre for Youth.

Kolasinski said his mother is the “strongest, most inspirational woman” he’s ever met when asked what his favorite thing was about his partner.

Jarrett said in her dancing bio that she is participating in the event because she’s hoping to have “an unforgettable experience with her son.” Jarrett is a retired mathematics instructor, having taught 11 years at the University of Poland and 24 years at Modesto Junior College, where she continues teach courses during the summer. She also worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the height of the Cold War.

Other notable couples include Jessica’s House director Erin Nelson and her husband Bryan, Stanislaus County Fair CEO Matt Cranford and his fiancé Kristen Patterson and recent Stanislaus County Sheriff candidate Juan Alanis and his partner Mercedes Wallace from Ambeck Mortgage.

Many of the veteran dance professionals also return this year, along with a few new faces.

Gabrielle Aguiar-Forrest, owner of Alegria Ballroom Dance Academy, returns for her fifth year as a professional dance coach.

“I’m happy to be a part every year. We raise so much money for the community. I don’t think there’s any other fundraiser that brings so much of the community together,” she said.

Aguiar-Forrest said the most challenging part of the event is scheduling enough practice times in the nine-week period before the live show.

“The most rewarding part is watching them grow as dancers and as couples in their relationships, no matter what capacity it is,” she said.

The professionals will have their work cut out for them this year, as DWTTS is changing the event setup. The stage will now be in the middle of the room, giving attendees a better view, and putting pressure on couples to put on a 360-degree performance.

Other surprises for the 2018 event include “celebrity” bar tenders and vote by texting.

Tickets for DWTTS are $100 each or $1,000 for a table of 10 or $1,200 for a preferred seating table. They will go on sale at 5 p.m. Aug. 9 at Red Brick Bar & Grill, 153 S. Broadway in Turlock. If they don’t sell out, tickets will be available at