NEWPORT — After a two-year hiatus, Dancing with the Newport Stars returned Friday and Saturday night, featuring many familiar faces and a range of talents.
This year’s stars included Leigh Stocker, Chuck Weinstein, Eliot Fay, Anna Pysz, Karen Little, Robert Steele, Gabe Edwards and Beth Rexford.
They were paired with professional dance partners from the Newport Ballroom. The pros included Karim Chichakly, Renee Patten, Angie Stevens, Mason Martell, Doug Barton, Aggie Proper, Jazzy Durgin and Steve Patten.
Collectively they represented many facets of the Newport community, from entrepreneurs to employees of some of the town’s core businesses and organizations.
And for the first time, two pairs of high school students competed.
Anna Pysz, a senior at Newport Middle High School, and Mason Martell, a sophomore, danced a samba to “Cheerleader” by OMI. The two also complemented the music with their own trumpet solos.
Psyz, daughter of Andrew and Suzanne Psyz, was crowned homecoming queen in 2017. Martell started ballroom dancing at age 7, and his parents are Mike and Paula Martell.
Gabriel Edwards, a senior at Mount Royal Academy, and Jazzy Durgin, a junior homeschooler from Croydon, danced a rumba to James Arthur’s “Impossible.” Their performance featured impressive lifts from Edwards.
Edwards is the son of Heath Edwards and Aggie Proper. Proper also danced in the competition as Robert Steele’s partner.
Durgin, daughter of Dubie Durgin Dattola and Tony Dattola, is also competing in the Newport Winter Carnival Queen Pageant, which will be held Feb. 9.
The students were a big hit—the young talent placed both nights.
Like the national television show from which the competition draws its inspiration, the event included comments from judges along with audience voting.
Pysz and Martell placed first on Friday and Edwards and Durgin placed first on Saturday.
“When I was little, I always enjoyed performing in front of the town,” said Martell, “so I’m glad I got to do this, especially with Anna as she is one of my best friends.”
On both nights, Beth Rexford and Steve Patten placed third for their swing to Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.” Their routine featured bright teal outfits, large shades and hula-hoops.
But no dancer left empty-handed. Each pair received an award for different categories such as “best footwork” and “most animated.”
Less so than the competition, the night was about raising money for a good cause.
The event was sponsored by the Newport Area Chamber of Commerce and the Newport Opera House Association (NOHA), with the proceeds to be split equally between the two organizations.
NOHA’s portion of the proceeds kicked off their upcoming capital campaign to fix the lighting system inside the Opera House.
The current system is old and prone to failure. NOHA estimates that it will cost $80,000 to replace the entire system.
“When we at the chamber found out about this, we were proud to partner up,” explained Steve Smith, the evening’s host and member of the chamber’s board of directors.
“Remember, your money here tonight goes to helping keep the lights on.”
During the second act, both previous stars and members of the Newport Ballroom performed a dance. Durgin’s mother choreographed the previous stars’ western-themed routine.
“Dancing with the Newport Stars is such a great community event,” said Teriko McConnell, who attended Friday’s performance with her family.
“We love that it is a fundraiser, but I also love seeing the local pros and people from the community that are willing to put themselves outside of their comfort zones.”
Judges were Kevin Onnela, Sarah Davis and Dan Cherry.