It was a night of music, merriment, and tripping-the-light-fantastic on Monday, December 12, as The Manor Nightclub and Restaurant Complex in Wilton Manors hosted Dancing with the South Florida Stars, to support fitness and nutrition programs for individuals with HIV and non-HIV-related life-threatening conditions.
The event, sponsored by Stork’s Bakery & Coffee House in Wilton Manors, The Naked Grape Wine Bar in Wilton Manors, and Boardwalk Bar in Fort Lauderdale, benefited the Brian Neal Fitness and Health Foundation, a service organization that assists financially-challenged people living with HIV/AIDS through free gym memberships, group workouts, and ongoing lifestyle education classes which cover all aspects of living a healthy, balanced lifestyle: diet, exercise, physical and emotional well -being, positive life choices, as well as providing mentoring and life coaching.
Using a format familiar to fans of the hit television program “Dancing with the Stars,” ten partnered teams trained for over a month in the dance and aerobics studio at Wilton Manors’ Island City Health and Fitness to ensure they were at peak performance for the event.
The teams, culled from a Who’s Who of Greater Fort Lauderdale’s “gay-lerati,” included entertainers as well as business and community leaders. The couples were, in numbered order: Jesse Durko and Andrea Lytle, John Zieba and Nicholette, Bobby Blair and Deja Devonair, Michael Driscoll and Cashetta, Bruce Bogan and Electra, Sean David and Dimitri, Reece Darham and Velvet Lenore, Billy Bowser and Misty Eyez, Dean Trantalis and Michelle Verdi-Knapp, and Vince Clancy and Liene Dilorenzo.
The Manor Complex’s Epic Nightclub dance floor served as both stage and battleground for the contestants, who performed to a varied song-list which included everything from “Dancing Queen” to the theme from “Dirty Dancing” and polka-esque “The Chicken Dance.” The airline pilot/flight attendant uniform-clad duo of attorney and former Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor Dean Trantalis and his dancing partner, Michelle Verdi-Knapp, danced – appropriately enough – to Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly With Me.”
When the final steps were danced, the panel of judges, consisting of Richard Hack, award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author; Danny Carter, owner and founder of DanceMoves Studio in Fort Lauderdale and a member of the National Dance Council of America; and former Miss Florida and Miss Black Gay USA Champagne Bordeaux, selected the winning the team of Bruce Bogan, owner of Copy This and Planet Press in Wilton Manors, and his partner, drag celebrity entertainer Electra, who danced to “You and Me” from the “Victor/Victoria” soundtrack.
Bogan says it was a great experience. “It was a terrific time. From rehearsals to the final performance, this was more than your typical night out. Electra, of course, is an amazing entertainer, but I knew that we had our work cut out for us. But when the lights went down and the music came up, it all came together. I am very pleased with the result.”
Chosen by the judges as First and Second Alternates were, respectively, the teams of Misty Eyez and Billy Bowser, and Reece Darham and Velvet Lenore.
Darham, chairman of the Rainbow Business Coalition (RBC) and owner of Island City Health and Fitness (ICHF), called the evening a “great success,” and added that it was “so much fun.” ICHF is the primary health club used by the Foundation, providing recipients of the Foundation’s grants with an infrastructure for the organization’s services.
Grant recipients also receive an online training program to document their journey to healthy living through exercise, diet, and a good emotional outlook, as well as materials to document their success.
Among its partners, the Foundation is working with the Pride Center at Equality Park in Wilton Manors, to assist in finding qualified applicants for 2012.
Funds for the event were raised to benefit the Foundation through ticket sales, which consisted of the contestants purchasing tables, as well as members of the community at large purchasing individual tickets. Donations from Foundation members and supporters, as well as local businesses and the event’s sponsors for the evening’s silent auction also added to the night’s proceeds. A signed guitar autographed by Chuck Panozzo, co-founder of the rock group Styx, was auctioned off for $1,750. Combined, the night’s projected total came to just over $10,000.
Brian Neal, Executive Director and founder of the Foundation was extremely pleased with the night’s results. “I want to thank the entire community for your incredible support. This will allow the Foundation to help many people living with HIV/AIDS and other life threatening illnesses with gym memberships, nutritional counseling, life-mentoring classes, and structured group work-out classes with qualified professionals.”
The community also expressed its pleasure at what a number of attendees called an “amazing” evening.
Charlize Angel, the evening’s emcee, said it was “an incredible night,” and called the event “a huge success,” adding that “it was an amazing show.”
“Great event,” applauded John Tanzella, President of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) on Facebook.
“I was robbed,” joked contestant Trantalis after the results, then added, “The people! The energy! The fun! And of course the Brian Neil Foundation cause.
The generosity of our community is overwhelming. And we all had a great time being a part of it.”
Videos from the evening have been uploaded to www.youtube.com Search words: Dancing with the South Florida Stars.
Interested applicants for the Foundation’s program are invited to contact Brian Neal for the 2012 enrollment. To qualify, individuals must be HIV positive and/or living with a potentially life-threatening illness. Applicants must be able to show they cannot afford to pay for these services without assistance. A physician’s letter must also be provided to clear all approved recipients to participate in an exercise program. To contact Brian Neal: BrianNealFitness@me.com or call 954-816-0237.