Karen Garthwait and Zacharia Levine took second place at last year's Dancing with the Moab Stars competition. [Courtesy photo]

Watch Moab’s “celebrities” pair up with dance instructors for a serious, but friendly, dance competition on Friday, Sept. 23, at Grand County High School’s auditorium, 608 S. 400 East.

While the third annual Dancing with the Moab Stars event is modeled after the popular television show “Dancing with the Stars,” the local competition is less fierce, and no one is voted off the stage.

“For us, it’s a dance and a competition, but fun and friendly,” Moab Valley Multicultural Center Outreach Coordinator Joanna Onorato said. “People are practicing a variety of dance styles – swing, ballet, Latin – it’s really fun.”

The annual event is a fundraiser for the Moab Valley Multicultural Center.

Nine couples will compete for first, second and third place, plus People’s Choice, Best Costume and Judges’ awards. Contestants win prizes that local residents and businesses donate.

Three of this year’s local “celebrities” include Grand County High School Athletic Director Ron Dolphin, Moab Free Health Clinic AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Mark Pryshlak and Moab City Council member Heila Ershadi.

Dolphin had never danced before – not even at the school dances he attended as a student.

“Outside of junior prom in ’87, (I had) no training or experience,” he said.

But with “constant and unwavering” prods from Moab Valley Multicultural Center Outreach Director Leticia Bentley, he eventually teamed up with dancing partner Cindy Stocks Montague.

They began to practice their routine in the first week of June, and have continued to rehearse for about four hours each week since then, dancing to a medley of songs from the musical “Grease.”

For Dolphin, it’s been a challenging – yet rewarding – time that encouraged him to reflect on his work with students, and how he found himself in their position.

“I believe in proper role modeling and I have always encouraged student athletes to have the courage to participate in sports,” he said. “Courage is a great character trait to develop and is a great indicator of real leadership … Being a part of the Moab version of Dancing with the Stars has recommitted me to having the courage to step outside of the box or comfort zone. It’s something I hope all students are willing to have and develop.”

In addition to the main event with Dolphin and others, three different noncompetitive “dance expo” performances will also take place throughout the evening, MVMC Volunteer Coordinator Katlyn Keane said.

A flag processional representing 22 different countries, with music by Japanese-style drum group Moab Taiko Dan, will open the evening.

After intermission, a Scottish Highlands dance will be performed, followed by the remaining four dance pair competitions. The evening concludes with a swing expo dance performance.

Gabriel Woytek and Kristi Jensen were last year’s first-place winners. Woytek will be one of the three judges for this year’s competition.

Last year, the event raised $7,000 for the Moab Valley Multicultural Center, Keane said. The nonprofit organization hopes to top that this year, she said.

Proceeds will go toward five MVMC programs: Crisis Research and Referral, Youth Education and Outreach, Interpretation and Translation, Language and Life Skills, and Cultural Education and Outreach.

Various community members, as well as performers, volunteer their time for the event, Keane said.

For example, KZMU Community Radio Program Director Christy Williams Dunton helps dancers edit their music so they don’t go over the allotted three minutes allowed for each performance.

Grand County High School drama instructor Maralee Francis donates time at the high school, where a “building manager” must be present during any rehearsals, or setting up, Keane said.

And, both the Moab Arts and Recreation Center and the Moab Recreation and Aquatic Center have allowed the free use of their space for dancers to practice, Keane said.

Additionally, Red Cliffs Lodge, Redstone Inn, Bighorn Lodge and Moab Rustic Inn are all sponsoring the event.

The high school auditorium seats 650, and the event sold out the two previous years.

Tickets are $13 in advance and available at Back of Beyond Books, 83 N. Main St., WabiSabi, 160 E. 100 South, and at the Multicultural Center, 156 N. 100 West. Tickets at the door – if available – are $15.

A multicultural center benefit, Dancing with the Moab Stars returns on Sept. 23

What: Dancing with the Moab Stars 2016

When: Friday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m.

Where: Grand County High School auditorium, 608 S. 400 East

Cost: Advance tickets are $13 at WabiSabi, Back of Beyond Books and Moab Valley Multicultural Center. Tickets at the door are $15, if available

Info: 435-259-5444; moabmc.org/?post_type=dd_events&p=801

For us, it’s a dance and a competition, but fun and friendly.