Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tampa Bay Star Kicks Up Her Heels!

By Susan Thurston, Times Staff Writer

Published Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ann Poonkasem has sung the national anthem in front of thousands of Tampa Bay Lightning fans and strutted across a beauty pageant stage in sky-high heels. She's appeared on national TV trying to be a Hilton and has a few movie credits to her name.

But dance in a super skimpy outfit before a live audience?

"Never!'' she said.

Poonkasem, a.k.a. Ann P., takes to the parquet Saturday in Tampa Bay's version of Dancing with the Stars. Fresh off the heels of the reality show's Season 9 premiere, a dozen local celebrities and businesspeople will show off their moves for the sake of charity and title of best dancer.

"I'm the least flexible person in the earth,'' she declared during a break from practicing Thursday. "I didn't think it would be so hard.''
The event paired local notables with professional dancers from Fred Astaire Dance Studios. Teams had 25 practices to prepare for their 2 1/2-minute routines.

Like the actual TV show, the experience hasn't been without drama. Poonkasem's legs became so sore she had to get acupuncture on her ears to relieve the pain. Then, on Sunday, her dance partner, Raymond Cedeno, bruised his toes when a chair fell on them.

But it's all been worth it. Their tango/cha cha medley was nearly perfect a few days before showtime. Thanks to extra fiber, liquids and fish oil, Poonkasem feels fit and fabulous.

The event benefits Heartbeat International based in Tampa, which provides free pacemakers, defibrillators and other implantable cardiac devices to patients in developing countries.

Last year's show raised $50,000 and drew more than 500 people. A sellout crowd of more than 800 are expected this year.

A panel of ballroom dance judges will critique each contestant and name the best male and female winners. Audience votes, cast online in advance and during the show, will select the People's Choice, and the Grand Champion will be awarded based on both the judges' and audience's votes.
Poonkasem, who was last year's Ms. Gasparilla and a former Miss Tampa, hopes people give generously regardless of their vote (which she badly wants).

Also dancing are: Lynne Austin, the original Hooters girl; Enrique Crespo, a Tampa designer; Sally Dee, former golf pro; Tom duPont, publisher of the duPont Registry; Susan Guidi, president of Advanced Ultrasound Services; Jim Henning, real estate consultant; Brandi Kamenar, CEO of Icon B. Marketing and Publicity Group; Melissa McGhee, former American Idol contestant; Chad Nelson, mixed martial arts fighter; Shilen Patel, health care entrepreneur; and Roxanne Wilder of Bay News 9.
Dancing with the Stars Tampa Bay
The event is from 6 to 11 p.m. Saturday at the Tampa Marriott Waterside, 700 S Florida Ave. Tickets are $150 online in advance but were expected to sell out. Online votes for your favorite dancer are available for purchase until 11:59 p.m. Friday. Go to dwtstb.com.

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