Dancers have passion if not experience

It's time to dip and twirl for the Assistance League of Newport-Mesa.

The 72-year-old nonprofit, which aids children and families via community programs, is organizing an annual ballroom dancing competition. Dancing for Tomorrow's Stars couples community leaders with professional dancers.

The festivities, geared toward raising funds for the Assistance League's local efforts, also feature a cocktail reception, dinner spread and an open dance floor.

"I put together the first [Dancing for Tomorrow's Stars] six years ago, and it was a big hit because it was different from other fundraisers," said Marie-France Lefebvre, vice president of public relations. "This is not a typical cocktail dinner. It's very entertaining and fun."

This year's ballot showcases CBRE Senior Vice President Ray Eldridge; philanthropist Stephanie Argyros; former Miss Universe, actress and author Shawn Weatherly Harris; publisher Christopher Gialanella; sales and real estate professional Gordon Orsborn; and Elizabeth An, founder of Crustacean Beverly Hills and AnQi at South Coast Plaza — all of whom try to raise "points" or funds to stay ahead in the game.

Argyros is in the lead with $7,240, followed by An with $5,910. Combined, the six competitors have amassed a total of $20,170.

Each year, three men and three women are selected. They perform two dances and vie for the awards of best male dancer and best female dancer. Voting occurs before and during the event, and the pair with the most votes is crowned the fan favorite.

Each vote costs $10.

"The event itself is produced like the TV show 'Dancing with the Stars'. It's as nice a show as that, although we don't have the Hollywood glory," said Lefebvre, 70, of Newport Beach. "It's really neat."

The contestants, finalized in the fall prior to the show, offer their services despite typically having no background in dance. The league has teamed up with dancers from Century Dancesport, a Tustin-based studio, paying for a certain number of classes for each participant.

Once they begin learning routines around Christmas, the community leaders pay for more lessons on an as-needed basis.

"Some of these people will come up to us and say, 'I would love to do this,' while others are approached by members of the community," Lefebvre said. "A lot of times, past dancers who have had an amazing experience will join the competition's committee and say they know someone who would be great, and then they go and convince him or her. It's been really nice for the league."

Eldridge was similarly nominated for Saturday's lineup, although he has previously, by his own admission, only demonstrated his moves at nightclubs after downing a couple of cocktails.

"This experience has been fun, exciting, rewarding and humbling at the same time," said the 55-year-old Corona del Mar resident. "I have no natural ability as a dancer at all. My wife learned in an hour what took me months of preparation."

Training started in mid-December and continued two or three days a week from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, he said. His wife, who was his "biggest cheerleader," contacted friends and family for support and votes.

"I have a 4-year-old son and it's fantastic to be able to help young children and families so they can buy clothing and proper dental work," Eldridge said. "It's a great cause and I'd be happy to do it again."

Presented at the City National Grove of Anaheim, Dancing for Tomorrow's Stars' hosts include Orange County Register columnist and former TV personality Barbara Venezia and Los Angeles Kings' broadcaster Bob Miller. The judges are plastic surgeon Dr. Terry Dubrow, dance champion Sharon Savoy and entrepreneur Brett Lawrence.

Last year, the competition attracted more than 300 attendees and earned the Assistance League about $150,000. Lefebvre is anticipating Saturday's guest list to exceed 400 people.

Nearly a dozen people do all the behind-the-scenes work for Dancing for Tomorrow's Stars, and are then bolstered by additional volunteers during the actual event.

A wrap-up meeting, close on the heels of Saturday's fundraiser, will pave the way for preparations for 2014's gala, Lefebvre said.

Eldridge, who now has a renewed appreciation for professional dancing, is counting down to "finishing" the cha-cha and tango.

"I just want to follow my dance routine," he said, laughing.

Twitter: @RMahbubani

If You Go

What: Dancing for Tomorrow's Stars

Where: City National Grove of Anaheim, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $200 per person, along with opportunities to buy a table or to underwrite contestants

Information: (949) 645-6929, or

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