Shall We Dance? Eight ‘Stars’ Partner with the Pros
Shall We Dance? Eight Local ‘Stars’ Partner with the Pros
SOCORRO – Prepare to be dazzled at the surprisingly fancy footwork of the eight local “stars” when they compete for the iconic mirror ball trophy in a live, onstage performance with their “Shall We Dance?” professional counterparts.
Winning the shiny disco-era prize is just part of the entertainment package opening at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, at New Mexico Tech’s Macey Center in a Performing Arts Series (PAS) event.
Dr. Ravi Bhasker
Dr. Michael Hargather
City administrator, NMT Regent
Delilah Vega Walsh
County manager, NMT graduate
Dr. Stephen Wells
A group of young local dancers also will take to the stage, while the professionals with the Utah Ballroom Dance Company demonstrate their show-stopping ballroom skills.
While the jury is still out on whether the Mayor or New Mexico Tech’s President has true ballroom panache, one thing is certain: some of the local performers do have previous stage and dance experience.
One of them is Melissa Begay, who brings to Friday night’s program a veritable wealth of dance and fitness expertise. And, yes, she can belly dance.
“One of my fondest memories is of me setting up our kitchen like the stage on American Bandstand and Soul Train,” said Begay. “I would flip the chairs to make steps and I would use the kitchen table as my stage, then I would dance around in the kitchen imitating the dancers on those shows.
“Every Saturday without fail, I would watch these two shows to admire the teenagers dancing,” she said. “I wanted to be one of those dancers when I grew up.”
While Begay has had plenty of stage experience, “Shall We Dance?” is her first judged dance competition. The longtime director of Tech’s recreation program has taught fitness classes for 27 years, including racquetball, step aerobics, cardio kickboxing, Zumba, Total Body Tabata, Bootcamp, kettlebells, weight training and yoga.
“I have tried most dances, such as waltz, salsa, swing, country two-step, line dancing and hip-hop,” Begay said. “But I’ve never tried to tango!”
She first performed in public at age six when her father took her to the kiva to watch pueblo dancers practice for Santa Clara’s feast day gathering. Seeing his young daughter mesmerized by the dancers, her father let Melissa practice with the group, which was the first year she participated in the annual celebration. Begay danced with her tribe, the Winter Clan, for the next 20 years.
When asked to describe her dance style in three words, Begay said, “Since my sign is Sagittarius, we’ll go with the three S’s – silly, sultry, soulful.”
“I don’t have any dance experience, other than tap dancing when I was three years old, and my mom said I was more interested in being bossy than dancing,” said Delilah Walsh. “I do enjoy dancing socially, but it’s already been a challenge to break habits related to polka and country two-step.”
|Melissa Begay and her dance partner Joey Williams during rehearsals.|
The Socorro County Manager has only seen one “Dancing with the Stars” show, but was amazed at what the pros can get the amateurs to do.
“I work with one employee who loves the show and tells me when to watch a good clip online,” Walsh said. “Unfortunately, my instructor won’t have such an easy time.”
Walsh knows how to salsa, and calls it the easiest dance style – but it wasn’t an option for the women. At Monday’s first rehearsal, she volunteered for the waltz.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “I thought it would be easy, but it is much more difficult than I thought.”
“I wasn’t too nervous but after the first practice, my anxiety level really exploded,” Walsh said. “This is much more challenging than I thought, and way out of my comfort zone.”
Delilah’s son, Joshua, was asked to join the student group, so when Kalish called and asked her to participate, she had to say yes.
“Both he and my eldest son, Jacob, performed with NDI, and they absolutely loved those experiences,” she said. “Since I pushed them so much to try something new, those words came back to haunt me and I couldn’t say no.”
Her only stage experience was drama club and mime club in high school, but public speaking is a far cry from dancing in front of an audience of hundreds. Walsh, who was the first-ever student regent at New Mexico Tech, is game for the new experience as reflected in her description of her dance style: “Like nobody’s watching.”
Mayor Ravi Bhasker, called out of town on family business early in the week, is somewhat disadvantaged at this point, missing the first two rehearsals. But Bhasker, whose elder son, Jeff, is a multi-Grammy award winner, surely must have some music and rhythm genes in his lineage.
Meanwhile, he issued the following statement: “I look forward to competing against Dr. Wells and Donald Monette. I tried to put this off (agreeing to participate) for as long as I could. I’ve been in dog-and-pony shows, but I’ve never been asked to dance. I’m sure it’s going to be entertaining.”
One of the evening’s stars still has injuries from having his arm twisted to join the competition. “I had to go see a doctor,” quipped Tech President Dr. Stephen Wells, referring to the persuasive skills of PAS Director Ronna Kalish, who recruited the participants.
As it turns out, Bhasker agreed to participate if Wells did.
“He started it,” Wells said. And now it appears that the academic and civic leaders will finish it, too.
Wells has never watched “Dancing with the Stars,” although in his pre-teen youth, he did have formal training in the waltz and fox trot – “although I don’t remember any of it now.” He appreciates dance as an art form, having seen performances in Central and South America, including a rendition of the tango in its native Argentina.
NMT President Dr. Stephen Wells rehearses with Grace Johnson.
“If I have to make a fool of myself in public, I’d rather do it with the tango,” Wells said.
He danced through high school and college; and like so many of us, let dancing go by the wayside over the years, except for social events such as weddings and other celebrations.
No stranger to the speaker’s podium, Wells also has stage experience as a high school thespian, and cites “Theater of the Absurd” as his favorite performance from those years.
He can be forgiven for listing only one word to describe his dancing style, rather than the three requested.
“Entropy,” Wells said. “Period.”
Meanwhile, across campus, Dr. Michael Hargather isn’t going to give away any trade secrets prior to Friday’s competition.
“I’m not sure whether I want to reveal my secrets until the event,” he said.
Hargather, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Tech, didn’t take much convincing to be a part of the action.
“The students voted me in – now they better show up to watch me dance!” he said.
Nerves aren’t a problem for Hargather. “It’s more nerve-wracking waiting to find out who I’ll be partnered with and what style,” he said.
He is no fan of televised dance competitions, but has had lessons in a few styles before, in a lot of different settings.
“I have waltzed, tangoed, and salsaed, but I have the most experience with swing dancing from when big-band swing was popular when I was in high school in the late 1990s,” he said. These days, he is known to dance regularly at weddings, bars – “or anywhere good music plays.”
Hargather’s three-word description of his dance style? “Unexpected, energetic, fun.”
Monette is another of the local performers who has never seen a single performance of “Dancing with the Stars.”
So how much dance experience does he have? “Not much,” was Monette’s brief reply.
While still on the Socorro City Council, he was asked to participate by PAS Director Ronna Kalish, and agreed to do it.
“But then I started thinking about it, and after a while, didn’t hear back from Ronna, so I thought I was out of the woods,” Monette said.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” he admitted prior to the first rehearsal Monday night. The city administrator, who stepped down from the council to work in City Hall, never took theater classes as such, but performed in several plays in high school.
“It was fun,” he said.
Monette has watched ballroom dance here and there, “but I’ve never performed any of those dances in my life,” he said.
His three-word style description met criteria: Country, two-step.
“You'll see me dancing anywhere there is music,” said Denise Contreras, a public schools teacher and member of an extended Socorro family. Although she has no formal dance training, in her youth Contreras choreographed dances for her sisters and cousins, performed at the San Miguel Fiestas, fund-raisers and various family gatherings.
These days, Contreras can be seen shaking a leg at local dance venues. As a schoolteacher, she has participated in the National Dance Institute (NDI) program for the past eight years.
“Oh, I love watching ‘Dancing with the Stars’,” she said. “I enjoy all dances and steal some moves from various dance styles.”
Dancing brings Contreras a great deal of joy.
“I’ve tried doing various dances from online sources, city functions and community dance classes to learn different dance styles,” she said. “I now have a chance to learn new steps and a dance, and I’m very excited!”
Is she nervous? “Of course I'm nervous,” Contreras said with a laugh. “Will I forget the steps, can I really do this. But all in all, I want to smile, have fun and just dance. No one twisted my arm – I’m excited to be part of ‘Shall We Dance?’”
Energetic, variety and self-taught describe her dance style.
Bradley Stevens of Albuquerque, the youngest competitor at 19, is a biology major at New Mexico Tech and a senator in the Student Government Association. He also serves as president of the student chapter of Tri Beta Biology Honor Society, is a research assistant for Dr. Siobhan Watkins and a learning coach with the Office for Student Learning (OSL).
If that isn’t enough, Stevens also finds time for Zumba classes, and most Thursdays will find him at the Swing Dance Club on campus.
“I am so excited!” Stevens said, adding that he believes he was nominated by the student body. He describes himself as a huge fan of “Dancing with the Stars,” which he has watched since season two (season 24 is under way).
“My athletic experience in high school was marching band and tennis,” Stevens said. “Now it is Zumba and step class.”
The teen described his dance style as sassy, fun and energetic.
“This show may be a sell-out, so I strongly encourage everyone to get their tickets ahead of time,” Kalish said. “Also, Tech Club Macey will be open before the show and at intermission with fun munchies and cash bar for the adults. Get ready to have fun, Socorro!”
Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $10 for youth. They are available online at www.nmtpas.org, at the Cashier’s Office (second floor of Fidel Center), Socorro County Chamber of Commerce (10am-3pm, M-F), Sofia’s Kitchen Drive-up, by calling 575-835-5688 or at the door.
– NMT –