On with the show, this is it

Last night marked the 8th and final lesson for the couples who will compete at Mad Hot Ballroom Pittsburgh, a benefit for Dancing Classrooms Pittsburgh, on Sunday, June 12.

All were novice dancers when they volunteered for the event. Four of the six couples are married, including a pair of newlyweds. One is a pair of coworkers. Another barely know one another.

To prepare the competitors, Dancing Classrooms Pittsburgh teaching artists Terry and Rozana Sweeney, with help from Kelsey Kizina, followed the curriculum we use to teach fifth-graders in Mercy Behavioral Health’s in-school program. Each couple was assigned a “color of the rainbow,” just as our schools are for their competitions.

According to Rozana Sweeney, no previous relationship gives any couple an edge.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re dating, married, work together, or are complete strangers,” she explains. “It’s about teamwork.

“On the floor, you are partners in dance.”

Are you ready to rumba?

Marcus Poindexter and Kathy Dozzi rehearse the Tango for Mad Hot Ballroom Pittsburgh

We wanted to know how our newly trained dancers feel about making their ballroom debut in front of hundreds of people on Sunday.

We asked why they signed up, what they’ve learned, and if they think they can win the first Mad Hot Ballroom Pittsburgh trophy.

Here’s a little background on each and what they told us.

Marcus Poindexter and Kathy Dozzi  (Orange) representing Tobacco Free Allegheny. Marcus is a prevention/intervention specialist for Mercy Behavioral Health and was first introduced to Dancing Classrooms in the fall of 2010 when he worked with our teaching artist at Pittsburgh Sunnyside K-8.

Kathy is the matriarch of the Dozzi family and an aide for the Riverview School District. She welcomed the idea of learning to dance and add to the support that her husband, Dominic, and his company, Jendoco Construction, have provided for our program.

Marcus hopes that having watched the children in Dancing Classrooms Pittsburgh might rub off on him. He’s confident he can “shake his pockets” but less confident that will remember all the right steps. Kathy was so inspired watching the kids compete that she says it doesn’t matter if they win or lose. Her dance partner, Marcus, says he’s “in it to win it.”

Patrick Flynn and Lisa Florian (Yellow) representing Riverset Credit Union. Patrick and Lisa, co-workers in Riverset’s business development and marketing department, have supported Dancing Classrooms Pittsburgh since it launched in 2009.

Lisa, director of business development and marketing, immediately recognized the positive influence the curriculum has on student’s social development – which extends outside the classroom.

Patrick, member and community relations representative, has twice volunteered as a judge for the Colors of the Rainbow semi-finals and has seen the program’s impact on children.

Lisa says she’s “a little nervous.” Patrick is promoting the event via Facebook and Twitter  and is trying to brown-nose judge Virginia Montanez on her blog. Competitors, take note!

Steve and Melissa Goda (Blue) representing Lamar Advertising. Melissa, a senior account manager at Giant Ideas, is a member of Dancing Classrooms Pittsburgh’s fund-raising committee. Her husband, Steve, is owner and chef of Arpino Trattoria, opening soon in Manor Oak Village, Scott Township. Lamar Advertising donated billboards for both the 2011 Colors of the Rainbow final team match and Mad Hot Ballroom Pittsburgh.

Melissa explains she’d set a goal to learn to dance in 2011, so Mad Hot Ballroom Pittsburgh was the perfect opportunity to follow through. She thinks they will do well in the Foxtrot, while her husband is partial to the Swing. The outcome doesn’t matter in the end, says Steve, because “it’s all for the kids.”

Jeff and Julia Igims (Green) representing Pittsburgh Public Schools. Jeff is the physical education teacher at Pittsburgh Phillips K-8, 2009-10 champions of Dancing Classrooms Pittsburgh’s Colors of the Rainbow team match. Over the past two years, he has seen the reaction of Phillips fifth-graders to the program and the positive results in their school.

Like Marcus, Jeff has seen the classroom instruction, so he’s hoping that helps him memorize the moves. Julia said they’ve improved their Merengue and Rumba and are least confident in Swing. Their biggest fear is crashing into another couple while performing on Sunday. Jeff said the hurdle he has yet to overcome is that he’s “stiff as a board.”  Loosen up, Jeff, you’ll be fine.

Leland and Amber Koehler are hopeful they can capture the Mad Hot Ballroom trophy

Leland and Amber Koehler (Purple) representing McAuley Ministries, part of the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System. Leland is a human resource generalist for Mercy Behavioral Health. Amber is associate food technologist at Heinz North America.

Leland and Amber met when both were out dancing at a nightclub on New Year’s Eve 2007. Now, they love to dance together at weddings. They wanted to participate not only because they’ve never had dance lessons, but also “because of the amazing reputation of Dancing Classrooms.”

Both Leland and Amber report they’re “excited and nervous.” But, Amber adds quickly, “not as nervous as we were eight weeks ago.”

Leland is definitely ready to Rumba, and says he and his wife have “a good flow.” The dance Leland most fears is the Tango, which he describes as “too serious for me.” Amber, on the other hand, fears no particular dance, only that her husband may forget some steps.

Anthony Venturino and Elizabeth Graham (Red) representing Community Care Behavioral Health/UPMC Health Plan. Elizabeth is a business analyst for Community Care Behavioral Health and Anthony is an investment analyst at Federated Investors. The dance lessons were perfectly timed for their June 4 wedding. At their reception, they had a chance to “perform” and show their guests how well they’d learned to Merengue.

Anthony and Elizabeth are confident about the Tango, but less so about the Swing. Since they’ve been practicing at home, they notice, little by little, the improvement in their skills.

Good luck to of all our couples on Sunday. You’ve stepped up to help young people in our community, and that’s what it’s all about.


Tickets for Mad Hot Ballroom Pittsburgh are $75 and proceeds benefit Dancing Classrooms Pittsburgh.  For more info, click here.

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