Morgan Petrash’s husband, Zachary Grant, told her not to stand on her tippy toes. “We’re not ballerinas here,” he said.

The couple is one of six performing at Dancing with the Stars – Victoria Style, a benefit for the Billy T. Cattan Recovery Outreach Center, May 31, at the Welder Center for the Performing Arts.

Three of the couples are married, one is engaged and two are simply dancing partners brought together for the event.

This year’s circus theme is inspired by the 2017 movie “The Greatest Showman,” and many of the costumes are steampunk style.

The evening will open with a popular song from the movie sung by Adysen Malek, an Industrial school district seventh-grade student. Following intermission, Jamie Salinas, a professional magician from Houston, will entertain the audience.

A silent auction in the lobby will include items such as trips to Rockport and Fredericksburg, and a package called the “Best Burger in Town,” which includes two combo meals from eight locally owned restaurants. The highest bidder will get to try burgers from restaurants, such as Huvar’s and Jim’s Big Burger, and pick a favorite, which the center will report on Facebook.

The fundraiser also allows audience members to vote with their dollars for their favorite couple. The voting, which is on the outreach center’s website, continues through intermission. A donation of $10 equals one vote.

The audience favorite will win the Mirror Ball trophy, which is passed from one winning couple to the next each year.

The judges will select the winning couple for the Judges Choice Award, a star-adorned trophy. The judges are Randy Vivian, president of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce; Constance Filley Johnson, Victoria County District Attorney; and Aubrie Shugart and Claire Pagel, from Aubrie Shugart School of Dancing.

Since February, all of the dancers have practiced one to two hours per week with instructor Robert Garza, who has taught dancing for more than 20 years.

All of the couples are continuing to fine-tune their routines until the event.

Petrash, a registered nurse at DeTar Hospital, took ballet, tap and jazz lessons for about 12 years, but she never took dance lessons with a partner, an experience she described as entirely different. The extent of her dancing with Grant has been to occasionally engage in a self-taught two-step at clubs or special events such as weddings. Following her husband’s lead has been the most difficult part of the learning process for her.

“Anticipating the next step that is not going to happen is like a train wreck,” Petrash said. “Instead of following his lead, I’m anticipating, and I need to let him lead, and sometimes that’s hard.”

Petrash said the idea of dancing in front of hundreds of audience members is worth the jitters because the outreach program helps so many people.

Grant, a radiologic technologist at Citizens Medical Center, who performs frequently in front of crowds as the lead singer for Tainted Heart, a country-and-Western cover band, also considers dancing at the event nerve-wracking.

“There are some frustrating days when Robert shows me a step, and I know it seems easy to him, but it’s hard for me,” Grant said. “It’s a matter of making sure you’re where you’re supposed to be on the beat, and I’m good now, a little relieved, because two weeks ago I was really nervous about it.”

Grant said Garza does not push the dancers to practice longer than an hour at a time because the process becomes overwhelming when an aspect of the dance is not clicking, especially for those dancing this way for the first time.

“He’s a great instructor, very calm and collected, and I’ve learned a lot so far,” Grant continued.

To determine the dance each couple will perform, Garza first assesses the couples to find the dances that best highlight their abilities in the time they have to learn the routines, which last between two and a half and three minutes. He teaches them the foundations of the dances and later helps them add attitude and create their own unique schtick. Garza stressed that the couples are not meant to rival the couples on the television show that inspired the fundraiser.

“These are not professional competitors so the training is different, and we don’t really hit the routines heavy until the beginning of April,” Garza said. “It’s all for a good cause; these couples are taking time out of their daily lives and it’s never a bad experience because it’s about having as much fun as possible.”

The event, first held in 2010, typically attracts 350 to 375 attendees, said Daniel Barrientos, executive director of the outreach center. This year, tickets are selling well so far, and he hopes to fill the Welder Center to capacity, 476 seats. The event raised $26,000 last year, which was $1,000 more than the organization’s goal. All of the money raised is used to fill the gap between state reimbursements and the cost of providing outpatient services.

The average reimbursement is $35 per patient for one hour of service, while the cost of providing that service is $71 per patient. Last year, 495 patients were admitted to the program, which means their diagnosis met the criteria for a substance abuse disorder. The minimum stay in the program is 90 days, and 43% of patients completed the program last year. Some stay with the program as long as nine months. The faith-based nonprofit was founded in 1999.

“I’m proud of these six couples because they are so motivated and give a lot of volunteer time and their voices for a good cause,” Barrientos said. “So, I’m looking forward to seeing them perform.”

Elena Anita Watts covers arts, culture and entertainment for the Victoria Advocate. 

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"I'm glad to be reporting on the events that bring people in my hometown together for fun, culture, camaraderie and good causes."

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