Dancing With The Bars 2015

Story and photos courtesy of SWAY PHX, August 2015 Issue.

For the past seven summers, local celebrities, bars and dancers have joined forces to fundraise and entertain, all in the name of charity.

This year marks the eighth annual Dancing with the Bars (DWTB) event, a ballroom dance competition presented by SWAY PHX. Much like the popular television show, each contestant is paired with a professional ballroom dance instructor for eight weeks of training.

In a philanthropic twist, not only do the contestants train as ballroom dancers, they also raise money for a local charity by hosting events that range from themed parties and raffles to “Tappy Hours” and online donations.

Throughout the past eight years, DWTB has raised more than $55,000 for local charities. This year’s benefitting charity will be Aunt Rita’s Foundation, whose mission is to be the catalyst of HIV/AIDS awareness, education and support. Aunt Rita’s Foundation raises and equally distributes funds to Central Arizona programs that prevent HIV/AIDS or assist those living with HIV/AIDS.

As part of the competition’s finale, which will take place Aug. 9 at Tempe Center For The Arts, each dance couple performs in front of a live audience. A panel of judges, as well as audience members, will determine the winning couple by vote. The contestant who’s raised the most funds will also be revealed as part of the finale.

With the finale just three weeks away, let’s meet this year’s DWTB contestants:

Adriana Galliano

Representing: Karamba Nightclub

Professional Dancer: John Holzworth

Originally from Mexico City, Adriana Galliano embodies the vibrant, beautiful Latin culture, making her an ideal ambassador for Karamba Nightclub.

“Karamba is the first bar I worked at. It is the place that opened its doors to me four years ago and then gave me a job, two years later,” Galliano said.  “But it isn’t just the bar. I really love the owners. They are very supportive of all of us and their participation in this event is a very good sign of that.”

While Galliano is known for her beautifully choreographed portrayals of such legends as Rihanna, Celia Cruz, Gloria Trevi and Beyonce, she admits she’s never taken a dance lesson.

“Honestly,” she offers, “I don’t have any dance history. I think I’m just Mexican and I know how to move.”

Galliano and her family regularly give to Aunt Rita’s Foundation and she said she was thrilled to discover another way to support the organization and its benefitting agencies.

“I really appreciate the concept of this event,” Galliano said of DWTB, adding that she attended the finale two years ago and immediately fell in love with the contest. “I love how it allows us to represent our bars as well as help the community.”

Raising funds and awareness for this organization are extremely important to Galliano, and she said she’s eager to be challenged and to learn from both her partner and the other contestants.

“I’m excited to represent the bar, help the community and, hopefully, win, she said.”


Ashlee James

Representing: Echo Magazine

Professional Dancer: Cullen Daniel

Ashlee James is dancing on behalf of Echo Magazine, where she’s worked for three years and is currently the director of sales and marketing.

“This is the perfect opportunity to represent Echo because we just turned 25 and, like most 25-year-olds, we’re just coming into our own identity,” she said. “It’s time to really commit ourselves to the people, places, events and organizations that have supported us for this long and are willing to progress with us as we move forward with this transition.”

The Arizona native is no stranger to the competition.

“I’ve known about it for the past four years. For the past three, I’ve worked with Echo and we’ve promoted it in the magazine,” she said. “Last year, I was very involved because my business partner, Nate Whitten, of The Nashlee Effect, competed, so I was coerced and forced to sell Jell-O shots at Cash Inn Country for at least four weekends in a row. I got to see him learn a whole different side of himself and experience it alongside him. It’s my turn, now.”

James, a volunteer for Aunt Rita’s, said she was excited to find out that the this year’s fundraising efforts will benefit the organization, but admits there were other reasons she said ‘yes,’ when asked to participate.

“I’m extremely vain and I have no problem admitting it,” she said. “I’m excited to get airbrushed headshots, I get to wear cute outfits and people get to look at me – so I’m cool with that.”


Brett Kennedy

Representing: Harley’s Italian Bistro

Professional Dancer: Shawn Nerdahl

Originally from Howell, Mich., Brett Kennedy moved to Arizona for a job exactly two years ago. Although he knows little about DWTB, he is a fan of “Dancing with The Stars” and was eager to represent Harley’s Italian Bistro, where he works as a server, when asked.

“Stacey talked me into it, at first,” he admits, “but then I realized it would be a fun experience.”

Initially, Kennedy’s knowledge of Aunt Rita’s Foundation was also limited, but through fundraising efforts at Harley’s and what he’s learned through DWTB, it’s now an organization he wants to support and help grow.

“I also think it is going to be a fun way to raise money for a good cause,” he said. “It’s not your typical fundraiser and I like that.”

Kennedy brings unique dance experience to the competition.

“I’m a physical education teacher, by day,” he said. “I teach middle school line dancing to 6th, 7th and 8th grade girls based on one class I took in college and what I’ve learned from YouTube clips.”

While he hopes to meet new people through this experience, representing Harley’s is very important to him.

“I love [co-owners] Charolette and Stacey,” he said. “They are super supportive of the community … They’ve created an environment of family where all of the employees help each other and are supportive of each other, both inside and outside of the restaurant. What’s more is what they provide to their customers: a great atmosphere with wonderful wine and awesome food!”


Goochie Ybarra

Representing: SWAY Events Bottle Models

Professional Dancer: Elie Contreras-Teodoro

Goochie Ybarra is dancing on behalf of the SWAY Events Bottle Models, a group that promote high-profile brands and charities at marketing events around the country. In fact, DWTB, was the brainchild of SWAY Events Founder, Gary Guerin, eight years ago.

And what exactly is the role of a Bottle Model? According to Ybarra, bottle models “are there to provide information, product samples and the energy to make sure everyone in attendance has a smile on their face.”

Ybarra worked DWTB the past two years as a Bottle Model.

“I’ve always had a great time,” he said. “I’ve also had the opportunity to see all of the participants thoroughly enjoy the experience, both behind the scenes and on stage. It looks like so much fun. Everyone has such a blast and shows so much energy on stage.”

As an Arizona native, Goochie knows how much Aunt Rita’s Foundation helps people and charities throughout Phoenix.

Although Ybarra has had roommates who danced, and taught him basic choreography, he has never taken lessons.

“I’ve often told myself, ‘I want to do that,’ but stopped short,” he said. “It will be a challenge and I’ve always pushed myself to be challenged.”

Ybarra credits his experience as a Bottle Model with slowly getting him to come out of his shell.

“This will get me out of my comfort zone and really help to break down some barriers [too],” he said. “Everyone has some walls up that need breaking down and I’m excited to learn how to do that.”


Jacqueline Ariel

Representing: BLISS/ReBAR

Professional Dancer: Matthew Maguire

Jacqueline Ariel, a full-time hairdresser at Steven Paul Salon in Scottsdale, a barre fitness Pilates class instructor and a volunteer with one n ten, is dancing on behalf of BLISS/ReBAR.

“Bliss is amazing and I really like the owners,” she said. “They’ve provided a lot of support for one n ten and they’re really good guys. I’m impressed with the work they’ve done to help the community and other organizations.”

According to Ariel, she caught the dancing bug while attending last year’s DWTB event. It’s also where she first saw Capoeira Brasil-Arizona and SambAZ dancers perform high-energy samba numbers in beautifully ornate costumes.

“After seeing them perform, I was inspired and eager to be the next ‘Samba Queen,’ she said, so I took their classes for a few months and attended their weekend workshop.”

Being relatively new to the LGBT community, Ariel, an native Arizonan, said she is eager to support those that helped her come out and become acquainted with the community, including Aunt Rita’s Foundation.

“I know about Aunt Rita’s and their work with AIDS research and I’ve learned so much about AIDS awareness,” she said. “I had my own preconceived notions about it, but educated myself throughout the past three years. [Now], I have a lot more knowledge.”

Ariel added that she has friends living with or affected by the disease, so this cause hits close to home.

“This community has given me so much support and told me I’m going to be OK,” she said. “Any way I can give back is good.”


Kira Daniels

Representing: BS West

Professional Dancer: Freddie Maese

As the reigning Miss Gay USofA Newcomer, Kira Daniels has been on the road a lot throughout the past year – performing in New Mexico, Texas, Minnesota, Michigan, Florida and Georgia.

Daniels can also be found hosting the This Stage Is Yours talent show every Wednesday at Cruisin 7th and the Elements: Drag Show every Friday at BS West.

“I’m happy where I’m at right now, entertainer-wise,” she said. “I’m comfortable with the persona I’ve developed and feel like I’m able to represent BS West well.”

When Mike Fornelli, BS West owner, asked the cast members of Elements to consider participating in DWTB, Daniels was the first to volunteer.

“I’ve been going to BS for as long as I can remember, so I basically grew up there,” she said. “I love Mike. He’s such a great guy and good person. I feel honored to represent him in any way possible and to do my best to win for him.”

Daniels began dancing in high school, then joined a dance crew and eventually became a backup dancer for local drag queens – all without any formal training.

“I feel like I’m a good faker. I can always fake it until I make it,” she said. “I’m good enough at salsa, jazz, hip-hop and contemporary to make it look like I know what I’m doing, even though I don’t.”

Additionally, Daniels often gives time, energy and donations to many of Aunt Rita’s benefitting agencies. This year, she’s excited to help all of them through a single event.


Olivia Gardens

Representing: Kobalt

Professional Dancer: Rik Dault

Olivia Gardens holds numerous titles, including Miss Gay Phoenix USofA 2010 and, most recently, the Imperial Sovereign Empire of Arizona’s Empress X.

Representing Kobalt, home of the Garden Variety Review, Gardens is on a quest to add DWTB honors to her list of accomplishments.

“[Kobalt is] a great group of people,” she said. “The owners, the staff and the clientele, they’ve always been a great family to me.”

And, as a result of having had many friends participate in past DWTB competitions, Gardens is not stranger to the competition.

“I’ve always had a great time,” she said. “I know they raise a lot of funds for organizations each year and it’s always entertaining.”

As an avid watcher of “Dancing with The Stars,” Gardens said she’s always wanted to participate in this competition.

“Short of being an actual celebrity myself, this is my opportunity to do what they do,” she said. “I like being on stage, so this is my opportunity to have fun and raise funds doing something I love.”

According to Gardens, she’s is a big supporter of Aunt Rita’s. In recent years, Gardens has joined Barbra Seville’s Wonderful 100 Team, which raises funds in support of Aunt Rita’s annual AIDS Walk.

Like many of the other contestants, Gardens has had no formal dance training.

“I’m more of an actor/singer who moves sort of moderately well,” she said. “Some call what I do dancing, some call it walking around … I [want] to have a great time and learn how to really dance!”


Ruben Contreras

Representing: Charlie’s Phoenix

Professional Dancer: Iliana Gonzalez

Ruben Contreras has worked at Charlie’s Phoenix – from bartender to Assistant Manager – since shortly after moving to Phoenix from Albuquerque eight years ago.

“Charlie’s gave me a life, a community, a family ever since I moved here,” he said. “I started working there and then joined their softball team, where I created new friendships and relationships. I see Charlie’s as a community center, a home where people who don’t have a home or sense of community – or even know who they are, yet – can begin.”

In past years, Contreras has helped raise money for other DTWB contestants. This year he will finally have the opportunity to represent the bar he calls home.

“I’ve always been proud of working for Charlie’s,” he said. “People don’t realize we’ve always put community first.”

Contreras and Charlie’s participate in Aunt Rita’s AIDS Walk every year.

“I think [Aunt Rita’s mission] is important, nowadays, because I feel that younger generations think they can take a pill and prevent HIV or take a pill and live a long life,” he said. “We need to let them know what past generations have gone through, the loss and terrible epidemic that happened in the ‘80s. They need to be made aware of their gay culture and history.”

After being outed during his senior year of high school, Contreras quit all of his varsity sports and took up dance. And he fell in love. Today, he dances for fun, every chance he gets. “I like to twerk while I work,” he said.


Ted Kirby

Representing: ION Arizona Magazine

Professional Dancer: Diona Peltcs

Ted Kirby has been an integral part of ION Arizona Magazine, where he’s worked as a distributor and writer, since shortly after he moved to Phoenix from Detroit in 2003.

As a huge fan of “Dancing with The Stars,” Kirby has attended the show in-person six times. His first experience with DWTB, though, was four years ago and he has since served as an event announcer and contributed to related fundraising efforts. So, it comes as no surprise that he’s always wanted to dance, but hasn’t had the opportunity until now.

“I’ve been a teacher all my life and have a passion for learning. This time, I look forward to being the student,” he said. “I’m looking at this experience as an … opportunity to learn something new. I know it sounds cliché, but this really is a road to discovery for me. I want to learn about myself and my capabilities.”

Kirby said he’s especially proud to be raising money for Aunt Rita’s Foundation. He knows people who work and volunteer with the organization, and admires their devotion to taking important causes under their wings.

With no formal dance training, Kirby said he has a fondness for anything having to do with dance, and that he’s especially eager to learn about the traditional styles of dance.

“It’s not all about winning to me,” he said. “It’s about the opportunity to represent a job I love, assist an outstanding charity I can totally get behind and become a part of something that is so meaningful.”


Travis Shumake

Representing: Stacy’s @ Melrose

Professional Dancer: Tim Bishop

In 2012, Travis Shumake was named Mr. Walks, Talks & Breaths Downtown Phoenix. This year, he’s looking to add DWTB 2015 champion to his list of accomplishments.

Shumake is dancing on behalf of Stacy’s @ Melrose, the four-time 2015 Echo Reader’s Choice award winning bar. And Shumake is no stranger to the competition.

“I’ve gone for the last four seasons in support of different friends who were participating and I waited for the right time for me to stop pretending like I don’t want to do it,” he said. “Now is the time in my life to do something I like and to give back philanthropically.”

The Arizona native said he’s well aware of the work Aunt Rita’s Foundation has done throughout the Valley, and believes it is very important that they continue to do so.

In light of the current political, social and economic environment, Shumake believes this is the ideal time for him to actively support such a worthy cause.

“The opportunity to fundraise for such a good cause and to get in shape while doing something fun over the summer,” he said. “But mostly, I really want to have a good time!”

Although he’s had no formal dance training, Shumake was a college cheerleader, throughout his years at Northern Arizona University and said “throwing people comes naturally to me.”

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