YWCA's Dancing with Boulder Stars returns to Boulder Theater

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Jun. 3—In November 2020, YWCA's Dancing with Boulder Stars had to take a hiatus due to COVID. The popular fundraising event will make its return on Tuesday with seven dancing duos taking to the Boulder Theater stage for an in-person component and a virtual one — where folks can tune in at home, vote and perhaps even cut a rug while watching from their living rooms.

"Having both options allows even more people to watch the event and I think we're just excited to have a high-energy, fun event with amazing performers who are all so dedicated to raising critical funds for our programs after such a tough year," said Brittny Wilson, vice president of development and marketing for YWCA Boulder County.

Modeled after the long-running ABC show "Dancing with the Stars" — that first aired in 2005 and over the years featured celebrities Billy Ray Cyrus and Kim Kardashian — the Boulder installment offers all of the dynamic moves and costumed flair with a hometown twist.

In-person tickets, for the socially distanced show that starts at 6:30 p.m. can be purchased in a set of four for $200.

"We originally had 150 tickets available for the live studio audience, but they are going quickly," Wilson said. "There are still pods available in the balcony that provide a great view of all of the performances."

Tickets for streaming at home are $20 per household.

Each year, members of the Boulder community are paired up with dancing pros to create dazzling routines. Whether it's samba, salsa or classic ballroom, duos spend significant time training and give their all on performance night.

Emma Nicoletti, vice president of data science at Niwot-based marketing tech agency Wiland, is one of the "stars" set to perform.

She is also a member of WILD Council — Women Inspiring Leadership Development — a networking group that supports local nonprofits, students and community members through mentorship, education and financial support.

"WILD loves the YWCA and this will be the seventh year we've had a dancer in the competition," Nicoletti said. "Every year, it's a question of who is brave enough, a good enough dancer and enthusiastic enough to be our representative. This year, I maxed out the enthusiasm scale and just cleared the wire on bravery. Dancing skills remain to be seen."

Nicoletti and her instructor Tom Wingerd — a Boulder-based professional dancer and independent film producer — have clocked many hours rehearsing at Streetside Dance Studios in Boulder.

On the "DWTS" TV series, contestants always speak of the training as surprisingly intense and an effective method for whipping them into the best shape of their lives.

"Actual practice has been such an adventure," Nicoletti said. "I've been a slow-but-steady long-distance runner for most of my adult life and dancing full out for two minutes gets me more out of breath than any half marathon I've been in. Somehow, though, despite leaving practices with Tom exhausted, I'm always bouncy and optimistic on my way home."

Nicoletti plans to keep experimenting with the art form and sharpening her skills, long after the event wraps.

"Dancing is kind of magic — it turns out — and I'm hoping to take classes when Dancing with Boulder Stars is over so I can keep this fun going," Nicoletti said.

As for what we can expect from her performance, Nicoletti says it will include her going upside down twice, pink go-go boots, purple satin gloves and a tune by iconic punk and new wave band Blondie.

"Debbie Harry is my personal hero, so no way there was an alternative band choice," Nicoletti said.

The competition is a consistent confidence boaster for participants.

"The most rewarding part of the experience is helping someone find joy in dancing," said Wingerd, who has participated in Dancing with Boulder Stars for six years. "The night of the event they are always so proud of what they have accomplished and all their friends and family get to see them in this amazing new light."

Wingerd, of Blue Moon Dance Company, started in squares and clogging in his youth and then eventually moved on to swing, ballroom, hip hop, modern and aerial partner lifts.

"Emma and I have been preparing for two months and you can expect something silly, heartfelt and full of cheesy disco fun," Wingerd said.

Wingerd encourages participants to let go of inhibitions and tap into a place of pure enjoyment.

"Anyone who is scared to start dancing should find a friend or instructor to be their spirit guide," Wingerd said. "If you go that route, you'll have someone always cheering you on from the corner, so you'll advance much faster and have less doubt about your progress. Otherwise, if you are the type of personality that is always patient with yourself, just find the voice in your body that wants to move. It'll feel super awkward for a long time and then one day you'll be dancing and you will feel cool."

Beneath all the splits and shimmies is a desire to give back.

"This is one of three major events we host annually and they have all looked differently this year due to COVID," Wilson said. "We're really hoping having both a live studio audience and streaming from home audience will give more people the opportunity to tune in."

Viewers can vote with their dollars by selecting a desire team.

While the real action starts on performance night, donations — essentially team votes — are currently open for those who want to show their support for a specific team ahead of the event.

"Our goal is to raise $55,000 through ticket sales, sponsorships and, of course, voting for your favorite team," Wilson said.

Donations are already steadily coming in.

"There wasn't one part of the experience that I didn't find rewarding," said Lance Hardin, artistic director of Boulder Ballet, who participated in the competition in 2019 and is one of the judges on this year's panel. "People got together to raise money for a great cause and have fun, sign me up. I enjoyed all the dance I saw and relished in artistry of all performers."

The team with the most votes/dollars raised will be awarded champion. Runner-up, Judges' Choice and Instructor of the Year will also be recognized.

As for what Hardin will be seeking in participating teams, he looks for performers who are truly having a blast.

"The cause makes you feel good and it was such a great time," Hardin said. "That's what I will be looking for in my judging. I like performers to set me at ease. I have found the best way to do that is to have fun while you dance because we — the audience — feel it and it is so contagious."

Other judges include Dana Stillman, owner and designer at Inspire Graphic Design and 2019 Dancing with Boulder Stars champion and Cynthia Molina, the CEO of Boulder Valley Women's Health Center.

"This has been a really challenging year for nonprofits in general and it's been no different at YWCA Boulder County as we adapted to the ever-changing needs of our community," Wilson said. "We somehow still managed to expand our programming even during the pandemic."

YWCA has added two new classrooms to its childcare center, Persimmon Early Learning.

The organization has also introduced a new course called "Being an Anti-racist" — within its Racial Justice & Equity Education department — which has been offered to the community and privately to numerous local companies and organizations.

"The money raised from Dancing with Boulder Stars will go a long way in supporting these new programs and help us continue to serve the community," Wilson said.

Dancers will be doing high kicks and pirouettes all in the name of philanthropy.

"One of my favorite things about this event is seeing the community come together to support the dance teams and YWCA Boulder County's programs," said Robyn Hazlitt, YWCA Boulder County's development and marketing manager. "Our mission to eliminate racism and empower women is more important than ever and it's always inspiring and heartwarming to see people step up to support our work."

While the beloved event was developed to ensure YWCA programs and projects continue to thrive, the annual competition has served as a way for community members to step outside of their comfort zones and embrace some complex choreography.

Winners will receive flowers, a commemorative statue and of course bragging rights.

"This year, I'm really looking forward to seeing the dance routines, from swing to hip hop to disco, that the dance teams have been perfecting for months," Hazlitt said. "It's going to be great."


Besides Nicoletti and Wingerd, dancing teams include:

* Dana Briganti, VP of mortgage lending for Guaranteed Rate Affinity and instructor Sky Shaver, astrophysics graduate student at CU Boulder

* Boulder Rotary Club President Sally Brown, director of therapy and marketing at Boulder Centre for Orthopedics and Spine and instructor Isaac Lynn, owner of Arthur Murray Dance Center Boulder

* Ellen Choonya-DeRoche, sophomore at Niwot High School and instructor Serina Ojala, instructor at Streetside Studios

* Joe Kelly, formerly with SRG in consumer research and marketing and new practitioner of nature-based therapy and instructor Cheryl Gerde, high school dance and mathematics teacher and owner of 8 Count Social

* Megan Lamerato, mortgage loan officer with Premier Mortgage Group and instructor Allison Johnson, writer, director and producer of Love Laugh Dance Films

* April Norman, preschool teacher at Persimmon Early Learning of the YWCA and Instructor Heather Cino.