Monday, April 26, 2010

Local celebrities dance for Covenant Hospice

from (Pensacola, FL):

Lakshmi Gopal arrived at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in a white lab coat and orthopedic shoes.

Exchanging her comfy clogs for elegant heels, the 33-year-old gastroenterologist checked her pager one last time, then waited her turn on the dance floor.

"Aren't they gorgeous?" Gopal asked, gesturing at the instructors quick-stepping around the small studio. "I hope I look half as good out there."

But looking good is nothing compared to doing good for her community. Gopal is one of several local "celebrities" hoofing it for charity in Life's a Dance, set for June 4 at the Saenger Theatre. Proceeds from the second annual showcase, presented by Fred Astaire Dance Studio, will benefit Covenant Hospice.

"When they asked, of course I said yes," said Gopal, who works at the Medical Center Clinic in Pensacola. "I'm no dancer, but I love to have fun. And it's for a truly wonderful cause."

Life's a Dance will feature a cast of familiar faces. Fred Astaire instructors will be paired with local notables including Gopal, DeeDee Ritchie, Donna Clark, Bree Sison, Fred Levin, Karen Collins, Antonio Terry, Jean Pierre N'Dione and Jayer Williamson for a dance competition. Dancers from the hit TV series "Dancing with the Stars," including Edyta Sliwinska, Alec Mazo, Derek Hough, Chelsie Hightower and Tony Dovolani, will perform in a showcase.

Victor Luna, an award-winning dancer who runs the Pensacola dance studio with partner Dawn Westberry, has been busy choreographing routines for the extravaganza.

At a recent group rehearsal, he hurried from dancer to dancer, dispensing advice over the thump of the music.

"Some routines are going to be a surprise," he said, smiling. "We definitely want to keep people guessing."

Pensacola attorney Levin insisted that his performance would be the most surprising of all.
"I'm going in cold," he said, a teasing grin on his face as he stood watching the other dancers. "I'm not having one rehearsal. That's the only way they could get the other guys to agree to compete. I'm just too good, otherwise."

Unlike the coolly confident Levin, most local competitors needed a little encouragement. Fred Astaire instructor Omar Hammad, 23, said the first and most important step in the rehearsal process was "building trust."

"Most of these people don't have a lot of dance experience, so, as an instructor, you want them to trust you and feel confident and comfortable," Hammad explained. "You want them to have fun."

Luna, who called on his "Dancing with the Stars" pals to appear in the benefit, said this is a remarkable event for the area.

"Nowhere else can you see this level of dancing, or these big names," he said. "Last year was amazing, but this year will be even better."

Leah Harrison is a development manager with Covenant Hospice, a nonprofit organization which provides services to patients and their families during times of life-limiting illnesses.

She said that last year's benefit raised $30,000.

"This year, our goal is around $35,000," Harrison said. "It was such a successful event for us, and we're thrilled that there is so much community interest."

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