Brenda May wins big at Atascadero's Dancing with Our Stars

Ninth annual fundraiser brings Broadway tunes to the Lake Pavilion

ATASCADERO – Community Star and Fitness Instructor Brenda May and her professional choreographer and dance partner Brian Reeves won the title of Grand Champion at the 9th annual Atascadero’s Dancing with Our Stars “Dancing on Broadway” fundraiser at the Pavilion on the Lake this past weekend. May and Reeves also won the People’s Choice Award on Saturday and Good Sport Award for May’s help with this year’s costume coordination on the same evening.

This year’s event took in 53 sponsors and sold 600 seats. Event Producer Jeannie Malik called it a success. She said the introduction of theater draping was a nice improvement this year. The dancers were able to end their routines behind the raised stage. “This is the second year we’ve hosted with a raised dance floor,” Malik said. The improvement was moving the raised stage back to the windows and creating a theater-style stage with draping so dancers could enter from the back wings.”

“The level of talent has gone up immeasurably,” she said, noting that this year brought in 47 performers — the most dancers they have ever had. The event started with only 12 dancers in 2010.

“Frank [Sanchez, Artistic Director] does an amazing job,” said Malik, adding that the incredible costumes and guest star vignettes were all Sanchez’s vision, as he is given complete artistic license. “I love the element of surprise he integrated into the show.”

She said Sanchez is a magnet for talent and she owes the success of the fundraiser to his remarkable showmanship.

Sanchez is a dancer, choreographer and director who has lived in Atascadero since 1959 and is turning 90 later this year. Guests at this year’s performance saw him dancing at the end of the show.

“It took every little piece to make it work,” said Sanchez, who was last year’s Colony Days King. Developing the show each year has been a real coordination effort, gathering all the new dancers and previous dancers together, learning their strengths and researching pieces to dance to. He writes the show tailored to their talents.

“It’s a matter of casting people in the right place,” he said. “I think that’s so important.”

For the vignettes, he said, “I try to tell a little story in three minutes with each one and then try to put all the pieces together.” He laughed. “There’s quite a bit to it.”

Sanchez’ granddaughter Mia Sudmeier was on stage performing a crowd favorite vignette of Roxie Hart in “Chicago’s” Broadway hit “We Both Reached for the Gun” as a guest dancer. One of the beneficiaries of the fundraiser is the Mercer-Sanchez Dance Scholarship Fund, a nonprofit community organization that encourages young males to pursue a career in dance.

Malik has been organizing the grand event since 2012. She also performed as a Community Star in 2011 and 2012. She said organizing the event is “part of life” and when one show ends, she and her team of volunteers begin planning the next year’s event. It is a labor of love for the community and she said she’s extremely grateful to the sponsors of the event.

“The community has just embraced this event and sponsors help offset the expenses,” she said, adding that the event started out as a fundraiser for the Atascadero Library, but now DWOS is able to allow six community nonprofits to fundraise with their platform. “That’s a really good feeling,” she said.

The theme for this year’s dance competition was “Dancing on Broadway” and the production was written and directed by Sanchez. Each number was based on a Broadway musical this year, with community stars dancing with local choreographers, along with Broadway-themed dance numbers by guest dancers.

The Friends of the Atascadero Library presented the three-day event, which began each evening with a social hour and drinks by Opolo Wine and Central Coast Brewing and appetizers and dinner catered by Pacific Harvest. There was a silent auction with the highly-anticipated dance performance following. Ballots were collected from the tables on which dancers should win for their chosen charities. The community stars have been collecting money for votes for their chosen charities for weeks before the event, and all voting totals will go to the community stars’ chosen charities, whether or not they won the “Grand Champion” title. “People’s Choice” is what the organizers describe as the “fun” category, outside the fundraiser, where guests at the event voted for their favorite dance number.  

May and Reeves danced the Foxtrot to “Hey Big Spender” performed from the Broadway musical “Sweet Charity” for their winning performance.

May, who has worked as a fitness instructor for 30 years was able to donate her winning performance to Quota International of Atascadero, a service organization dedicated to the deaf and hard of hearing. Her partner, Brian Reeves, a music producer, is a familiar Dancing with Our Stars dancer who founded the A-Town Ballroom in Atascadero and teaches ballroom dancing.

On both Friday and Saturday nights, the People’s Choice award went to twice-named “Teacher of the Year” at PRHS, Jeanne Neely, who was dancing to raise funds for the Atascadero Library. Her dance partner was award-winning break dance instructor at Motions Academy of Dance Eddie Rodriguez. The pair danced a hip-hop number to “You’re the One that I Want” from the Broadway musical “Grease.”

Second place for Grand Champion went to landscape contractor and Atascadero Historical Society President Jim Wilkins, who was dancing to create resources for the Historical Society’s Colony Heritage Center project. His dancing partner and choreographer was portrait artist and dance instructor Christina Troxel, who worked as Assistant to the Director for the event. Wilkins and Troxel danced the Rumba/Cha Cha to “Whatever Lola Wants” from “Damn Yankees.”

Taking third for Grand Champion was Jennifer Adams, the Executive Director of RISE and her choreographer dance partner Chris Harmon, instructor and owner of Let’s Dance in Atascadero and Santa Maria high school economics teacher for their East Coast Swing Charleston performance of “Stompin’ at the Savoy” from “Swing! The Musical.”  Adams danced to raise funds for RISE.

Paso Robles Mayor and former resident of Atascadero Steve Martin emceed the event once again and sang “Let Me Entertain You” as guest dancers Angela Cisneros, Susan Poteet, Sharon Rademacher, Christina Troxel and Trica Williams danced to “Broadway Baby” for the opening act.

Community dancer Karen Burish Wyke danced the Argentine Tango with Tom Troxel to “Don’t Cry for me Argentina” from “Evita,” raising funds for Friends of Atascadero Lake, and Scott Rosenblum took the stage dancing to Broadway’s “Friend Like Me” from “Aladdin” with Choreographer Kara Frenzel. Rosenblum’s dance performance benefitted the Atascadero Education Foundation for the Atascadero Robotics Team.

Community Star and Nationwide Insurance Field Sales Manager Jane Frenzel (Kara Frenzel’s mom) and Choreographer Christopher Ellwood danced the Mambo/Jazz piece to “Time of my Life” from “Dirty Dancing,” to benefit Friends of the Library and Giovanni Comin, President of Central Coast Seafood danced a nightclub two-step with his wife and choreographer Molly Comin, founder of the Paso Robles Tap Jam, to “Someone Like You” from “Jekyll & Hyde, The Musical” for the Mercer-Sanchez Dance Scholarship.

In between acts, special guests performed dance excerpts from “Hello Dolly,” “Chicago,” “The Pajama Game,” “42nd Street,” “Guys and Dolls” and “The Music Man.”

Several young local dancers took the spotlight with their talents. Paso High School Junior Oscar Gutierrez danced in several special numbers and Creston Cooper, a Cuesta College drama student, saved the day, filling in for a “76 Trombones” number for a performer who injured himself at the dress rehearsal, as well as standing out as a rising star in many guest numbers. Cooper had to quickly learn his part under Sanchez’ direction one day before opening night.

Among other outstanding dancers in the area, Angela Cisneros, K.Jon’s General Manager, and Atascadero Police Chief Jerel Haley turned some heads as returning Community Stars. Atascadero City Council member and Mayoral candidate Heather Moreno also returned to the stage as an all-star performer, dazzling the crowd with her dramatic dance talent.

Sanchez said he wanted to thank all the people who made it easy for this team of volunteers: From the dance studios that donated the rehearsal space, to those who took the time to drive him to rehearsals on Sundays, he said he was very grateful for the community effort to put on another fabulous show.  

You may reach Reporter Beth Giuffre at [email protected] for questions and/or feedback.

© 2019-Atascadero News

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