UPC hosts Dancing with the K-State Stars

Mary Abounabhan, sophomore in business administration, tap dances on McCain Auditorium's stage on April 18, 2016 during Union Programming Council's Dancing with the K-State Stars. (Austin Fuller | The Collegian)

Dancing with the K-State Stars season eight wrapped up last night in McCain Auditorium. This year’s theme was Hollywood Classics.

This event is inspired by the hit show “Dancing with Stars,” which is currently on its 22nd season on ABC.

The competition kicked off with a West Coast Swing routine by Ashley Wilmoth, Miss K-State 2015 and junior in marketing and accounting, and her partner Richard Reed, member of the K-State Swing and Salsa Club and graduate student in nuclear engineering.

In their introduction video, Wilmoth said West Coast Swing was new to her, and her biggest challenge to overcome was learning to dance with a partner.

The couples were judged on five categories, including choreography, style, creativity, technique and stage presence, by a panel of three judges: David Ollington, associate professor in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance; Ben Hopper, Director of Greek Affairs at K-State; and Donita Whitney-Bammerlin, instructor in the College of Business Administration.

“I think this is one of the coolest K-State traditions,” Hopper said. “Megan Canfield and Julianne Jensby started it back in 2009 with season one, and it’s just really cool to see UPC has kept this up. I’ve been a part of every episode since season one, and it’s just a fun program to see K-State students, faculty and staff have fun.”

According to Erika Davis, program adviser for UPC, the process began several months in advance with a sign-up of volunteer performers. UPC paired up the “professional” student dancers with the “stars,” or student leaders, based on their interests, Davis said.

The teams were given six weeks to practice their routines. Wildcat Watch videographers recorded the training sessions and produced mini documentaries about the dancers that aired during the show.

“After events like this, I’m always super proud of the students because it’s a huge time commitment and lots of hard work,” Davis said.

This year’s first-place winners were Mike Finnegan, associate professor in the Staley School of Leadership Studies, and Mackenzie Mong, senior in political science, who performs in musicals at the Manhattan Arts Center. The duo received the mirror ball trophy.

The judges smiled as the two performed a salsa routine to “Cuban Pete” by Desi Arnaz.

“It feels incredible,” Mong said. “I’m so proud of (Finnegan). I’m so proud of the dedication he put in. One of my favorite parts of working with him is his open-mindedness. It was a true collaboration.”

Finnegan said he used encouragement from his partner and the audience to fuel his stage presence.

“I guess during rehearsals, (Mong) would always say, ‘Mike, smile’ and it was something I had to think of, but up on stage and being in front of people, you get a lot of energy from the crowd,” Finnegan said. “Hopefully it showed.”

Davis said this year’s Dancing with the K-State Stars drew in a smaller crowd of roughly 130 attendees and less participants than in previous seasons.

“This is our eighth year, so maybe it’s just getting less popular,” Davis said. “We’ll reconsider it for next year and see if it’s something we want to do again.”