Eau Claire is back in the swing of things

Story by Brian Sheridan, Freelancer

On Sept. 13 Zorn Arena held the loal Eau Claire Children’s Theatre’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

Dancing With The Eau Claire Stars event was close to sold out with just over 600 people in attendance with John Leonauskas, a marketing manager for Menards, claiming victory.

The show raised over $30,000 for the Children’s Theatre, bringing hope that the dancing competition will be around for a while. The show includes formal dining, competitive dancing, familiar stars and a televised performance without all the hassle of flying to Hollywood.

“It’s a great way to support,” special event coordinator Shelly Grokowsky said. “It’s a really fun night. You can get dressed up, there’s dinner and cocktails, then there’s two rounds of celebrity dancing.”

The theater recruited 10 local celebrities from the business community along with 10 people at the theatre who had either dance experience or were professional dancers. They also found 10 choreographers in the community to teach them to perform to a song.

Just like on the ABC television show, the teams were required to learn two 80-second dances. Since this year is the Children’s Theater’s 25 anniversary, the theme of the event was “A Salute to Broadway.”

“We gave them a list of all the musicals we’ve done over the last 25 years. There was over a hundred on the list, and they had to pick one song from one musical and that was their first number,” Gronkowsky said. “Then all teams dance that number and then they come back and do freestyle. We got teams doing tangos, swing, salsa, jive; you name it, they’re doing it.”

The theater collected a group of local judges to assess the individuals on each of their paired performances.

“Two of them are dance professionals from Wausau, we have a former Miss Wisconsin from the Green Bay area and then we have two alumni dancers — one who won the season one competition and then a fan favorite from season two,” Gronkowsky said.

But the journey didn’t start with performance day. Work on the event started back in July when local doctors, store owners and chiropractors alike met their dancers and choreographers to begin their practice for the next six weeks.

Amanda Spitz, pediatric dentist and owner of Smiles in Motion, said she’s enjoyed the excitement and challenge that has come with this competition.

“You can do things that you didn’t think to ever try,” Spitz said. “I had an injury while dancing and that was a little tough but we worked through that. But otherwise, it’s been awesome.”

Spitz said the event was bigger than she thought it would be and her fans were very excited to come. Donna Kling has been attending Dancing With the Eau Claire Stars for the past four years and has all intentions of coming back again.

“It’s a wonderful way for the community to support the theater and it’s enjoyable to be at,” Kling said. “Every age level is welcomed and is appreciated. I recommend it to anybody.”

The amount of popularity the event garnered came as a shock to Grokowsky, but she said she was much obliged to accommodate to the attending patrons.

“The first couple years we were over at the Ramada, so capacity in that room was just a little over 300,” Grokowsky said. “And the second year we sold out very quickly and we actually expanded into the lower level. Then we came over here to Zorn where we can seat a little around 650 and that’s been a really good place for us.”