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Local celebs compete in dance gala for charity

Hospice; 'I could not pass up the opportunity to make a fool of myself for the cause'

In exactly one month from today, I will don my sequined dress and dance in front of strangers and friends during the Dancing with the Richmond Stars (DWTRS) gala dinner and dance in support of the Richmond Community Hospice Foundation.

Although I'm feeling more confident with my moves, I am a puddle of nerves at the thought of sashaying across a large dance floor at the Grand Ballroom.

I have renewed respect for television's hit show, Dancing with the Stars. Those celebrities train for hours every day.

When I first signed up, I thought a two-minute dance couldn't be all that difficult to learn.

Was I wrong! I'm rehearsing three times a week and I'm halfway there … so much more to learn -- look up and smile, don't count the steps out loud, legs straight and remember be flirty, sexy and coy all at once.

As I've been watching my competitors rehearse, I've realized I have amazing competition. This is why I'd like to introduce the News readers to my competitors and their professional ballroom dancer/trainers.

First off, let me introduce my dance instructor, George Pytlik.

Pytlik has been the B.C. Latin Champion in the 35+ age category for the past six years. His wife, Wendy, who is also coaching me, was a championship Scottish Highland dancer for many years, before discovering Latin dancing.

This experience of being involved in this event is stretching him as a teacher. However, Pytlik says rehearsals are going great.

"Michelle is picking up the dance very quickly, but the Cha Cha can be challenging because of the fast-paced music. I know that she can look fantastic, so I've choreographed a routine that's pushing her to the limits, yet one that I feel she can master in time for the event. We've picked our music and completed most of the choreography."

He adds, "Michelle has stepped way out of her comfort zone, and I'm really proud of her commitment. Like all new dancers, she has to develop more confidence in her ability, but I'm convinced she'll be an audience favourite with her dynamic personality and sexy moves."

Kim Howell, deputy chief, Richmond Fire-Rescue, dances with Young Ryu. "I imagine that my perception of how the dance rehearsals are going is different than my instructor and dance partner, Young Ryu.

"I really appreciate Young's patience, persistence and willingness to give his time to support to this great cause. I am supporting it for a few reasons -- personal, professional and selfish.

"On a personal level, I truly admire the type of care cancer patients and their families receive from hospice. The high level of care and support from hospice staff and volunteers is so valuable to families dealing with the stress of losing a loved one.

"I know because the Kelowna hospice helped me when my brother passed away in 2009 from cancer.

"On a professional level, Richmond Fire-Rescue lives the City of Richmond's vision to be the most appealing, livable and well-managed community in Canada, and the hospice is a community partner that very much contributes to achieving this vision.

"For selfish reasons, I have always wanted to ballroom dance and here it is an opportunity to give it a try."

Ryu has been dancing for two decades as a competitor and turned professional 10 years ago. He was the B.C. champion for four years in ballroom dancing.

"Progress is slow, but we have the story, the music and the show as well as all the logistics, we just need more time for the choreography," he says.

Dr. Alan Nixon, Richmond Hospital, pairs with Linda Chen.

"I have been a palliative care physician for 30 years so I have a vested interest in all things related. So I could not pass up the opportunity to make a fool of myself for the cause.

"Working with the wonderful Linda Chen, I can now place my feet appropriately so that it looks as if it's easy, which it is not. Linda is a patient woman.

"Over the years I have been amazed at the hours volunteers put in at the acute units and hospices helping patients and staff. I have enjoyed lecturing them on the front line work that we do.

"Hopefully we will raise some money to enhance the great job they do. The Richmond Integrated Hospice/Palliative care program is unique in that I allow patients and their data to flow freely between home, hospice and acute hospital unit."

Chen says, "I'm participating because it's for a good cause, and because I love doing shows. The rehearsals are coming along and Alan and I are both enjoying the experience. For someone who has had no experience in dancing, he is making a tremendous effort and I find it admirable."

Laura Van Sprang, Richmond Funeral Home, on dancing with Andy Wong. "I have worked for the Richmond Funeral Home as a funeral director and embalmer for four years. I have also volunteered and sat on the board for the Richmond Community Hospice Foundation as events coordinator for the past year.

"Once Pat (Miller, executive director of the Richmond Community Hospice Foundation) came up with the idea for DWTRS I jumped on board! Pat and I started working hard recruiting local celebs and I decided to step up to the plate and learn a ballroom dance for this worthy cause.

"I have done some performing in the past, rock comedy, cabaret and Tony and Tina's Wedding back in the day, but learning a ballroom dance has been a very new and challenging role for me.

"I have often tried to combine my love to perform with my love to fundraise, and this will be my third time coordinating for the Hospice Foundation and second performance.

"I opened the live auction in 2008 with a revised version of Big Spender. The funeral industry is very much connected to the hospice in that it provides an extremely important service in assisting families during the last stage of their loved one's life."

Wong is the owner and principal instructor of The Grand Ballroom. He is a 13-time B.C. Amateur Champion and three-time adjudicator of the Canadian National Championships.

"It is a great pleasure for me to provide our studio for such a wonderful charity event. The fact that I am able to perform with Laura is just the icing on the cake.

"It is so much fun working with Laura because she is so vibrant and dedicated to the training.

"So much so, that it has been my biggest challenge to keep her enthusiasm under control, otherwise she would be bouncing off the walls. I am just amazed how she can keep up to me with this boot camp style dance training."

Fannie Leung, Fannie's Florist, with dance instructor Wei Wang.

"For me, this is another fun and unique way of giving back to the community by raising funds for the Richmond Hospice. Rehearsals have been refreshing, dusting off my old dance shoes and learning something completely new!

"I look forward to the challenge and hope that I raise enough money to make up for any dancing errors I may have."

Wang says, "The reason why I participate in this charity function is that, being Chinese, I want to contribute more to the community and that hospice is very meaningful to all of us."

Meanwhile, the judges for the ballroom dance competition are Don Dickson, Linda Reid and Casey White.

Join the Richmond Community Hospice Foundation for Dancing with the Richmond Stars on Saturday, March 3 at 6 p.m. at the Grand Ballroom, 12200 Riverside Way.

Come for an evening of dinner and dance in support of hospice. Tickets are $125 (tax receipt available for $50 upon request). Tickets are available online at www.richmondhospiceassociation. com (click on dancing image), or call 604-279-7140.

You can also pledge your support for your favourite celebrity online.

All funds raised from this event support much-needed hospice palliative and bereavement volunteer programs and services.

mhopkins@richmond-news.com