By Todd McMahon • The De Pere Journal • February 24, 2011
Janet Gollnick has high hopes her event this weekend will turn into a ballroom blitz.
“Our stars have really stepped up this year,” Gollnick said. “They’re raising more money. Individually, they’re all trying much harder to raise money than one might expect. They understand the need, and they’re going all out.”
Their moves on the dance floor aren’t too shabby, either.
Gollnick is a longtime and accomplished ballroom dancer and the owner of DanceSport of Green Bay dance studio. She also is the director of the Dancing with the Stars fundraiser for the local American Red Cross.
The third annual event, modeled after the popular “Dancing with the Stars” reality TV show, will be Saturday night at Radisson Hotel & Conference Center in Ashwaubenon. The glitzy dinner program again is a sellout, with nearly 700 to fill the ballroom at the hotel’s Three Clans Complex.
The show pairs 10 “celebrities” from Northeastern Wisconsin with trained ballroom dancers, many of whom are college students or recent college graduates. The dance partners have worked together since late fall at Gollnick’s studio on the two dances they will perform Saturday.
Awards will be given to the top dancers determined by three judges from the dance industry as well as the audience.
The more coveted prize for the celebrity contestants is the Mirror Ball Fundraising Trophy, which will go to the person who raised the most money the last several months for the American Red Cross Lakeland Chapter.
Jody Weyers, communications director for the chapter, said the Dancing with the Stars fundraising goal this year is $100,000 after the event generated net revenue of $50,000 in 2009 and $75,000 last year. The proceeds are used for local Red Cross programs and services.
“It’s way more important for me to win the fundraising than it is to win the dancing because I’m not sure I have a chance at that,” quipped dance contestant Aymee Balison, owner of Sweetpea’s Fine Children’s Clothier in downtown De Pere.
Balison is one of four celebrity dancers in this year’s event with ties to De Pere. The others are John Allen, Dean Lindsley and Stacy Richards.
For those who don’t have a ticket for Saturday’s program, some of the dancers will give an encore presentation at the Radisson during a free dance showcase hosted by Gollnick from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. The Dancing with the Stars encore will be from 12:30 to 1:15 p.m.
The celebrity dancers were overcome by a shared sense of urgency this week as they set aside an hour or two on their daily calendars to get to the DanceSport studio for final workouts with their partners. A group dress rehearsal for the show will be Saturday morning.
“Everyone started at zero,” Gollnick said of the stars, whom she initially trained in the fall before passing them on to their dance partners.
“There isn’t a really fierce sense of competitiveness in regard to dancing,” Gollnick added. “There’s a sense of, ‘I want to do well enough so that my family and friends are not embarrassed and that the whole show is a good show.’ This is going to be a heck of a show.”
For dance newcomers such as Allen and Balison, they’re hoping to avoid tripping over their partners’ feet, to say nothing of their own.
“I feel like I’m a robot out there,” said Allen, 43, owner/agent for State Farm Insurance in downtown De Pere. “I still am all over the place.”
Allen will dance the foxtrot and the rumba. He planned to spend extra time in the dance studio toward the end of this week with partner Taylor Watry, who has worked with Allen on a limited basis because she’s a college student at Ohio State.
“I will have a lot of friends making fun of me,” Allen said. “I just hope to raise money for the Red Cross. That’s the bottom line for it. I’m trying to have fun with it, and I think it will be fun for those watching it. I’m really hoping that somebody else trips and falls so that they remember that person and not me. That’s my main goal.”
Balison, 42, has experienced both ends of the social-dance spectrum in training with Michael Witte on the cha-cha and the waltz.
“I’m not as worried about the waltz as I am the cha-cha,” Balison said. “The cha-cha, the footwork is just really quick. I can easily get lost and get off my timing. I’m going to really have to pretend that there’s nobody there (Saturday watching).”
Ledgeview resident Stacy Richards acknowledged she is “definitely outside of my comfort zone” as a contestant. She has been a big fan of watching “Dancing with the Stars,” naming professional dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy as her favorite.
“I’m a really good judge (of dancing talent) on the couch,” a smiling Richards, 40, said. “It’s a little bit more challenging now when I’m actually on the dance floor. I thought I had it all figured out from the couch.”
Richards, though, has proved to be a quick study with dance partner Jay Morth. The pair drew raves from some of their challengers for their spirited 2-minute routines in the Viennese waltz and the samba.
“After doing a little samba, you can feel it the next day,” said Richards, owner of Burnham Richards Advertising in Allouez.
Former West De Pere High School football player and golfer Dean Lindsley, 46, is the oldest of the celebrity quartet with De Pere ties but rates in the eyes of some of the other contestants as a top contender for best dancer Saturday.
Lindsley, a De Pere native who graduated in 1982 from West De Pere, is going with a Latin fusion with his dances, partnering with Watry on the rumba and Alyssa Zellner on the tango.
“I love the tango,” Lindsley said. “It’s got a lot of energy, and you get to attack it. There’s a lot of showmanship.”
Zellner, a student at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, attested that Lindsley has left everything on the hardwood studio floor at DanceSport in this opportunity to perform in the event. The 5-foot-11, 165-pound Lindsley exerts himself so hard in a dance workout that beads of sweat invariably fly off as he glides, twists and turns across the floor.
“It’s just part of the competitive nature of who I am individually,” said Lindsley, vice president of operations and product development at KI in Green Bay. “I’ve never done anything less than a 100 percent. Whatever I engage in, I put all of my effort and myself into it.”
Making a difference
Lindsley and his fellow competitors agreed the main event of the program Saturday night is secondary to what their involvement will mean for helping the initiatives of the local American Red Cross.
Aymee Balison cited a tour the celebrities took of the American Red Cross Lakeland Chapter office in Green Bay last fall and how she, as well as the others, gained a better understanding of and appreciation for the emergency relief efforts conducted by the nonprofit organization.
“It really made you think, ‘Oh, I can so give up 4 minutes of my life and embarrass the heck out of myself (with her two dances Saturday) for all that they do,'” Balison said. “I just have to keep that in my head — ‘It’s not about me. It’s about the Red Cross.'”
The celebrity contestants have called on family, friends and work contacts to make donations in their name for the Dancing with the Stars fundraiser. Monetary votes can be cast for a dancer on the website www.arclakeland.org/ dancing/2010/dancers.php.
Stacy Richards said her son Ben, 11, helped organize a penny war with his fellow sixth-graders at Foxview Intermediate School in De Pere. The four classes raised more than $800 for American Red Cross in the recent endeavor.
“As far as having it be a learning experience for everyone, I’m learning how to dance and I’m trying to pass along what the Red Cross is and how it affects the community and try to raise funds for the Red Cross, too,” Stacy Richards said.
Time out with …
Residence: Green Bay
Family: Wife, Paula; daughter, Bryn, 13; sons, Jack, 11, and Grant, 8
Hobbies: Playing golf, skiing
Residence: Green Bay
Family: Husband, David; daughters, Emma, 15; Kate, 13; Grace, 10; and Lily, 8
Hobby: Family time
Residence: Green Bay
Family: Wife, Julie; daughter, Grace, 10
Hobbies: Playing golf, cycling, fishing, hunting
Family: Husband, David; son, Ben, 11; daughter, Sophia, 7
Hobbies: Spending time with family, skiing, yoga, traveling