Chocolate & Champagne Holiday Gala features dance competition


Dancing has always been a highlight of Dance Alive’s Chocolate & Champagne Holiday Gala, but this year’s event, which starts at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Phillips, will include the dance company’s take on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Photo by Suzanna Mars
Published: Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 at 4:50 p.m.

They’re used to the spotlight in such productions as “The Nutcracker,” but this weekend offers a different spin for Dance Alive National Ballet’s stars — and the local celebrities they’ll team up with during the company’s Chocolate & Champagne Holiday Gala.

As one of the events accompanying performances of “The Nutcracker” at the Phillips Center, the fundraising gala has always been awash with glamor and sparkle. But this year’s gala broadens the spotlight to shine on the company’s dancers as they pair up with local celebrities for Dance Alive’s own version of “Dancing With the Stars,” a fundraising competition in which eight couples will demonstrate their ballroom flair.

Adding to the fun is that audience members — whether in attendance or watching online at Dancealive.org — can vote for them with donations during the black-tie gala, which starts at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Phillips Center.

“We just thought we’d spice it up a little and mix things up,” says Linda Rocha, Dance Alive’s director of development. “So we paired together some local celebrities, people that are pillars of the community, and put them together with the ballet dancers who have no ballroom experience, sent them to ballroom lessons and we’ll see what happens,” she laughs.

The pairings include Prioria Robotics chief executive officer Bryan da Frota and Dance Alive’s Gretel Batista; University of Florida provost Joe Glover and ballet dancer Julia Ponomareva; WKTK personality Chris Malone with dancer Jennifer Staples; and UF music professor and opera singer Elizabeth Graham with Dance Alive’s Gyorgy Baan.

Rounding out the contestants are Plum Creek Manager of Community Relations Rosemary Fagler with Dance Alive’s Fhillipe Teixeira; WCJB personality Emily Burris with Dance Alive’s Douglas de Oliveria; 85-year-old Florence Van Arnam with dancer Andre Valladon; and RoomSync co-founder and president Robert Castelluocci with ballerina Carla Amancio.

Part of the fun for the audience as well as the dancers — who will all dance together during a group waltz number and then as separate couples to either a salsa, cha-cha or tango — lies in having the professional ballet dancers try their hand, make that feet, at ballroom dancing, something they’ve had virtually no training or experience with.

“It’s two different animals,” Rocha says about the work cut out for the ballet dancers, who will literally be stepping out of their comfort zones to dance ballroom styles, and have been attending classes with their partners to do so.

“They almost have to unlearn what they’ve learned [for ballet] to do it correctly,” Rocha says. “You point your feet differently, you hold your arms differently; so it’s almost as if they’re at a disadvantage.”

Castellucci, the president of RoomSync (the Gainesville-based software provider behind the roommate-matching service on Facebook) and a salsa-dance aficionado , says he’s looking forwarding to the salsa dance he’ll do with Dance Alive’s Amancio.

“I think a lot of it is about working together with your partner,” Castellucci says. “And Carla’s great. She’s a very talented ballet dancer. This is her first experience with salsa dancing; and that being said, she’s such a natural with dancing in general that she picked it up so quickly.”

Contact Entertainment Editor Bill Dean at 374-5039 or at bill.dean@gvillesun.com, and follow on Twitter @SceneBillDean.

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