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Posing for a photo with me are the volunteer dance contestants, from left, Brad Davidson, Marisa Wayne, Ben Anderson, Lisa Heil, Lauren Kear, and Marco McAleer

Posing with me for a photo are the volunteer dance contestants at the Assistance League of Newport Mesa’s Seventh Annual “Dancing for Tomorrow’s Stars.” From the left are Brad Davidson, Marisa Wayne, Ben Anderson, Lisa Heil, Lauren Kear, and Marco McAleer.

They had a lot of guts! I take my hat off to the volunteer dancers who danced their hearts out at the Assistance League of Newport Mesa’s Seventh Annual “Dancing for Tomorrow’s Stars” fundraiser at the City National Grove of Anaheim. A la “Dancing with the Stars,” ABC-TV’s uber-popular dance show, volunteers are paired with professional dancers, and they rehearse for approximately six weeks to perfect two two-to-three-minute dance routines and perform them onstage in front of judges and, in this case, 320 guests. It’s a little daunting, especially if you’ve never had dance lessons or danced much. The brave hearts participating this year included Ben Anderson, Brad Davidson, Lisa Heil, Lauren Kear, Marco Antonio McAleer, and Marisa Wayne.

Following a festive cocktail reception in the Grove’s foyer, guests gathered inside the dinner theater, where they enjoyed two courses of the three-course repast before the dance competition began. ALNM President Kathy Youngman welcomed everyone and encouraged everyone to vote for their favorite dancer online. She talked about ALNM’s philanthropic programs, which include Operation School Bell (provides clothes and school supplies to qualified students in community), Cheri Harris Children’s Dental Health Center (provides low-cost, high quality dental care to children of low-income families), Kids on the Block (puppeteers with their child-sized puppets perform skits addressing societal issues to 2nd and 3rd grade students), and Community Outreach Program (partnering with community agencies and schools to meet needs of children and adults through educational and scholarship funding). During dinner, several puppeteers and their darling puppets entertained guests.

Event co-chairs Joanne Johnston and Johanna Roe thanked their committee and sponsors and introduced the judges, which included Michelle Pulfrey from Good Day LA, Orange County Register theater critic Paul Hodgins and Black, Starr & Frost Chairman/CEO Alfredo Molina, who was also a past contestant. The co-chairs acknowledged, in particular, committee members Jill Ayres and Sara Guggenheim Jarrett, both past contestants, and Marie-France Lefebvre for their amazing support.

Bob Miller proved a great choice as master of ceremonies with his commanding voice and dry wit. He introduced a video of ALNM’s history, which is quite a history, since the National Assistance League chapter was established in 1940. Mary Lynn Bergman-Rallis, who has chaired the ALNM Scholarship Selection Committee for 12 years, introduced this year’s scholarship winner, Carlos Ibarra, who she said grew up in an impoverished neighborhood in Costa Mesa dumpster diving for recyclables daily with his mother. Eventually graduating from Costa Mesa High School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Bergman-Rallis said Carlos utilized his extraordinary innate gifts and learned skills and wrote, produced and acted in his first short commercial film, the autobiographical “Cans at Dawn,” which debuted at the Santa Barbara Film Festival and also screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012. “Simply stated,” Bergman-Rallis said, “the film is a tribute to personal resilience and hope as experienced by this young boy and of a family unified by its desire to succeed.”

Carlos’ speech took your breath away. He said he was a high performing student, gifted athlete, talented performer and “occasional trouble maker,” to which he added, “hey…you gotta keep people on their toes!” The problem, he said, was that he had no money to attend college, which is something he and his family wanted for him. So, he navigated the college scholarship process and was turned down for 20 scholarships. Just about ready “to throw in the towel,” as he put it, the Assistance League of Newport Mesa notified him that he had received their scholarship. “They became my cheering squad and encouraged me to continue my scholarship hunt, and, once at New York University, gave me the motivation to finish college,” he said. Now in the professional world, Carlos said of the League, “They have become friends, colleagues and fans of my work, and as I continue to succeed, I will hopefully, in the not too distant future, be able to give back as much to them as they have given to me.”

As to the dance competition, Lauren Kear (looking fabulous in a sparkly costume with lots of feathers) and her professional partner Ed Van Ornum danced a sultry samba, while Ben Anderson, wearing a period zoot suit, complete with red tie and red-banded black hat, danced a mean fox trot with pro Alessia Minaeva. Lisa Heil (looking absolutely gorgeous in a red sequined and beaded gown with a red flower in her side bun) danced a powerful tango with dance pro Aurimas Petrulevicius, which received three 10’s, and Brad Davidson and his pro partner Natalie Schulz dancing a triple-10 jive to “Footloose.” Marisa Wayne (yes, John Wayne’s beautiful daughter!) and pro David Schulz received high marks for both their cha-cha and fox trot, and Marco Antonio McAleer exuded his Latin roots while dancing the salsa and tango with pro partner Viktorija.

Awards were presented to the following dancers: Lisa Heil was voted Best Female Dancer and also won Fan Favorite – the dancer who received the most votes – people gave money with their votes, which was earmarked for the charity. Brad Davidson won Best Male Dancer, Marisa Wayne was voted Most Elegant, Marco McAleer was Most Debonair, Lauren Kear was voted Most Charming, and Ben Anderson received the Most Wow award.

Kudos to Kalina Kovtur from Designs by Kalina, who helped design some of the dancer’s beautiful costumes, Bello Family Vineyards, who donated wines for the event, and to Black, Starr & Frost, who underwrote the cast party. Other past contestants I spotted at the benefit included Chris Gialanella, George Schreyer and Jim McAleer, along with former judge Janet Curci. Guests left on a high note, having witnessed a winning competition and knowing that a sizable amount (later stated at more than $150,000 in net proceeds) was raised for the amazing Assistance League of Newport-Mesa to help continue its important work in the community. Hear! Hear!

Selected photos by Michael Christopher at Logolite Entertainment