A bad dream often starts when the dreamer is tossed headlong into an impossible situation like taking a college exam after not attending class or skydiving without a parachute.

There was a similar vibe of impossibility in the air on Monday evening when this year’s Dancing With Your Pendleton Stars contestants gathered at the Roundup Athletic Club to meet their partners, professional dancers from the Utah Ballroom Dance Company. Despite the fact that most of the eight locals had precious little dance experience, they would perform only five nights later for 840 people.

The fledgling dancers looked anxious. They stood in a circle with their new best friends, professional dancers who would guide them through five hours of rehearsal preceding the performance. Rehearsal director Cat Umano assured them they would look like pros by showtime.

The newbies seemed dubious, but game.

The pairs got acquainted. Margaret Gianotti greeted her partner, Trevor Collins, with whom she would perform the waltz. They exchanged bios. Collins, a 27-year-old Michigan native, has danced for 11 years and spent time performing aboard cruise ships. He’s trained everyone from kids to octogenarians. Gianotti, who works as executive director for the Blue Mountain Community College Foundation, told him she had absolutely no dancing talent and originally turned down the invitation to dance.

“No, oh my god, no. Let me find you some names of other people,” she recalls saying. A co-worker talked her into it.

Collins started the rehearsal by showing Gianotti some footwork. Around them, other pairs learned the foxtrot, salsa and other genres of dance. When Gianotti apologized for messing up, Collins chided her and said she wasn’t allowed to say she was sorry. She concentrated as he guided her around the floor, their images reflected back by mirrored walls.

Across the room, professional dancer Andrew Gryniewicz guided Lisa Schultze in the quickstep. Gryniewicz, of Seattle, likes to break new routines down into digestible steps. He believes five hours of rehearsal is plenty of time to turn a “star” into a competent dancer.

“No star is hopeless,” he said.

Many arrive feeling fearful, though.

“About 99 percent of them on the first day, say ‘I never danced. I won’t be good,’” Gryniewicz said. “They always say that. They are always transformed by the end of the week.”

Occasionally, someone will suffer a panic attack as the performance approaches, but no one has ever fled. His job, he said, is to make the star look good.

“If you need me to drag you across the stage, that’s what I will do,” he said.

A couple of days after that first rehearsal, Gianotti said she felt more confident. Collins had taught her a series of non-verbal cues to help her remember what comes next.

“When he squeezes my hand, that means I’m going back for a dip,” she said. “When he pushes with his right hand, I back up.”

She is starting to believe she can dance for 90 seconds without seriously embarrassing herself.

“I’m embracing it,” Gianotti said. “It’s fun and it’s something I’ve never done. He’s got my back — literally.”

The other stars besides Gianotti and Schultze are Dale Freeman, Chris Fritsch, Shannon O’Rourke-Hudson, Rita Rosenberg, Addison Schulberg and Mikal Wright. The event is sponsored by the Community Action Program of East Central Oregon and ticket sales support CAPECO’s Food Share program.

Dancing With Your Pendleton Starts is 7 p.m., Saturday, at the Vert Auditorium. According to coordinator Sally Brandsen, there is a handful of the 840 tickets left with the possibility of some available at the door.


Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0810.

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