‘Dancing with the Celebrities’ a big success

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Several of Pittsburgh’s famous faces put on their boogie shoes and sashayed for charity during the third annual “Dancing with the Celebrities of Pittsburgh” last month.

Much like the popular “Dancing with the Stars” television program, this event paired 14 celebrities with local dance instructors. The couples trained for about three months, displaying their skills at the benefit program held at the Westin Convention Center.

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CELEBRITY DANCERS—Danielle Nottingham, with Chris Roth, dance instructor, after they finished dancing the American Cha Cha. They finished third in the competition.

Event celebrities ranged from television and radio personalities such as WPXI news anchors/reporters Danielle Nottingham, Peggy Finnegan, and WPXI chief meteorologist, Julie Bologna; Jim Lokay, KDKA traffic and transportation reporter, Jennifer Antkoviak, KDKA news anchor; Michele Michaels, WDVE radio personality; Kate Guerriero, Tribune Review columnist, to Lou Guarino, owner of Louis Anthony Jewelers, and Ziggy Murin, master hair colorist/stylist of Izzazu Salon, just to name a few.

The event raised $78,000 benefiting area charities including the Pittsburgh Caregiver Support Network, Family House, Cancer Caring Center, and Kiwanis International.

Nottingham and her partner, Christopher Roth, owner/director of Steel City Ballroom in Mt. Lebanon, placed third in the event, while Antkoviak and partner, Ryan Mitchell came away with first place for their salsa performance.

Roth said that Nottingham was amazing to work with from day one. “We just hit it off,” he said. The pair performed the cha cha because as Roth put it, “Danielle is lively, exciting, and I knew she could handle it.” Roth was impressed with Nottingham’s quick learning ability.

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WINNERS—Jennifer Antkowiak, KDKA news anchor and dance instructor Ryan Mitchell perform the salsa to take first place.

Nottingham said she got involved after receiving an e-mail from the Promotions Department at WPXI asking if anyone was interested in participating. She said she asked herself “why not?”

Participating in the event is a win-win situation for everyone, according to Nottingham. “It’s a bonus with something as fun as this. You learn something new, meet new people, and you know at the end of the day it’s not about your own selfish glory, it’s about helping others. You know all of this hard work will benefit others,” she concluded.

Since the competition is open to almost anyone in the area, Nottingham said she’d like to see more participation from the Black community. “You don’t have to be a media personality to get involved with this,” she stated. “There’s plenty of opportunity for minority participants.”

Ryan Mitchell is a regular within the Pittsburgh social dance scene. After falling in love with salsa dancing at the age of 19, Mitchell has been perfecting his craft, and is an independent instructor. He said it was great fun working with Antkoviak. “Look at her, a mother and now a cha cha dancer,” he said. Mitchell coordinates dance performances for social and charity events.

Always willing and happy to give back and support efforts, Antkoviak was excited to participate in the event to raise money for Pittsburgh Caregiver Support Network. She said she was particularly fond of this organization because there are so many people out there who are caring for ill loved ones with very little support, especially with the high numbers of the aging population here in Pittsburgh. “Caregivers need all the resources and support they can get,” she said.

Antkoviak said she spends many hours practicing her dance moves at home with the wall. She was thrilled that she and Ryan won first place. “I’m so emotional right now…I really just can’t believe it,” she explained after the announcement that they had come in first place.

The benefit was orchestrated by dance instructor LuAnne O’Brien, who said the idea for such an event came from a mother who was trying to raise money for another charity in 2007. O’Brien got other members of the ballroom dance community interested in helping and “the thing just took on its own personality and took off,” she said.

According to O’Brien, this year’s attendance well exceeded the past two years with more than 650 people attending to cheer on their favorite dancers.

The event is open to anyone in the area interested in helping others. O’Brien says the only rule is that the “celebrities” have no professional dance experience. “We try to use people who have little or no dance experience at all,” she explained.

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