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‘Stars’ set to dance for fundraising gala

ESCONDIDO — A popular reality TV show is getting the Escondido treatment.

The inaugural of “Dancing With Our Stars” at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido has enlisted nine local “stars” for the fundraiser set for 7:30 p.m. April 2.

Comedian Dallas McLaughlin will emcee the event, while tickets run from $27 to $55 for general admission and $175 for VIP, which includes premium seating, dinner and early bidding in the silent auction.

Indian opera singer Priti Gandhi of the San Diego Opera will act as the celebrity hostess for the VIP dinner, which begins at 5:30 p.m.

Proceeds will benefit the center’s education and community outreach programs.

According to Jennifer Pena, development manager for the center, the goal is sell out the 1,500-seat concert hall.

“We haven’t had a full-scale gala in a few years, and we wanted to bring one back,” Pena said. “At this point, our biggest push and focus is on ticket sales. It’s very different than selling a show because we are relying on the dancers to reach out to their contacts.”

To organize the event, Pena and her colleagues reached out to officials in Grass Valley in Northern California. From there, the Escondido contingent was able to formulate its own plan.

All the stars were confirmed by Dec. 1, although the marketing aspect was a new challenge. Pena said this unique event brought about several obstacles in how to spread the word, along with creating more than just a dance competition.

“If you don’t know somebody or are invested in the center, it’s a difficult sell,” she added. “San Diego is a huge last-minute ticket crowd … so that’s how this is shaping up to be. Our VIP tickets are selling well. We pushed a lot through grassroots efforts.”

In addition, the push to gather sponsors was also a challenge, although the center has secured several since its initial announcement of the event.

“They were kind enough to talk us through the ropes and show us their outline,” Pena added. “We had great success in reaching out to people as ‘celeb’ dancers to the point where we even had a waiting list.”

The dancers will compete in two disciplines, Pena said, which include ballroom and freelance routines.

After confirming the dancers, Pena said the plans for the evening began to take form. A live and silent auction were added, a VIP dinner, landing McLaughlin as the emcee and securing sponsors followed.

The silent auction is slated for 6:30 p.m. and is open to all attendees, while the live auction will be after the show with the grand prize of Guns and Hoses, which will allow the winner to be a police officer and firefighter for a day. As for the sponsorships, Pena said 12 have been secured.

“That has been a really positive thing,” she explained of the sponsors. “Same thing with finding the dancers. Judges, the same thing.”

The featured dancers, or stars, include Allison Andrews, director of Fashion Week San Diego; Jeanelle Brecht, vice president of BMW/Mini Escondido; Frank Foster, co-founder of A Step Beyond; Lori Holt-Pfieler, former Escondido mayor and president and CEO of San Diego Habitat for Humanity; Dana Moen, principal of Classical Academy High School; Mike Morasco, deputy mayor of Escondido; Trish Sanderson, community director of; Kevin Svetich, owner of CLU Insurance & Investments; and Jim Weise, executive director of the Escondido Community Child Development Centers.

Partnering with the stars will be dancers from PGK Dance Project, Tierra Caliente Academy and the Performing Arts Workshop.

The judges include Stone Brewing Co. Community Relations Manager Chris Cochran, Jean Isaacs of San Diego Dancer Theater and Jodi Kodesh of KNSD NBC 7 San Diego, to name a few.

Like any competition, there are those who are in it to win and others, such as Svetich, who is out to have a good time and support the cause.

Svetich is paired with Alyssa Junious and said the preparation has been difficult and eye opening. Admittedly his partner will carry the load, but Svetich said he hopes to surprise friends and family with his newfound moves.

“My previous dance experience includes high school prom, ‘80s disco music and several wedding receptions,” he joked.