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On the Town: Dance event welcomes year’s longest day

If it’s going to be the longest day of the year, why not make the most of it.

That is exactly what the staff and residents at Belmont Village Senior Living in Burbank did during last week’s summer solstice as they shook, rattled and rolled by staging a day-long dance-a-thon to raise funds for the Longest Day Alzheimer’s Assn. program.

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Gathering in the facility’s great room and bistro, residents and guests participated in festivities that included non-stop music and dance, salsa and Zumba instruction, a barbecue lunch, visits by special guests and the opportunity to sample treats donated by the new Dunkin’ Donuts in Burbank.

Welcomed by Chris Schroeder, the community’s executive director, and Jeff Braine, activity and program coordinator, participants also had the chance to meet renowned salsa dancer Natalie Avakian.

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The principal dancer of prestigious dance companies including Son Y Pasos and Salsa Brava, Avakian has also partnered with numerous Latin dance champions and performed at many prestigious venues including Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre.

A highlight of the day was when Avakian took to the dance floor and provided residents, guest and staff members with salsa instruction.

The day’s dancers and observers also got to meet another special guest, Babbs, a beagle-Jack Russell terrier mix in search of her forever home, who was accompanied by Lissette Rojo from the Burbank Animal Shelter.

Throughout the day, Belmont Village staff members took turns mingling and taking to the dance floor.

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Among those who made the event a success were Michelle Sucillon, Grace Jones, Caroline McColl, Tammy Cooper, Diana Gevorgyan, Jana Mahany and Kimberly San Mateo.

After dancing to recorded pop, rock and disco tunes from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., recording artist and guitarist Greg Gartska took over to provide live toe-tapping accompaniment.

The founder of Wolfgang, a band that blends rock, reggae and blues, and the lead guitarist with the modern and classic rock band, Saloon No 12, Gartska is an in-demand session musician who has recorded with numerous bands including Gokh-Bi System, Prime Time Players and Southern Sounds.

After seeing the 2014 film “Alive Inside,” a Michael Rossato-Bennett documentary that explores music’s capacity to reawaken souls and uncover the deepest parts of humanity, Gartska found a new calling: to perform for the elderly and in-firmed at assisted living communities, nursing homes and convalescent facilities.

Rossato-Bennett’s film chronicles the experiences of individuals of advanced age whose memories and health have been revitalized by listening to music.

Telling the story of numerous visionaries in healthcare, including that of social worker Dan Cohen, the founder of the nonprofit Music & Memory, the film demonstrates music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a sense of self to those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“It truly is amazing to witness the change in people when I play,” Gartska said. “It is a truly humbling and gratifying experience.”

All of the funds raised at last week’s dance-a-thon will benefit the Alzheimer’s association.

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