After several months of training and practice, Cape Coral's Gary Aubuchon came away from the American Red Cross' 8th annual StarStruck dance gala Saturday night with the Top Fundraiser Award.
Aubuchon and his professional dance partner, Michaela Poole of Cape Coral's Rhythm in Motion Dance Studio, were one of four couples performing at the gala for charity.
"It is the largest fund-raiser of the year for the Florida Southern Gulf Region of the American Red Cross," said regional communications director Kenny Howell. "Aubuchon raised $34,800 through family and friends to earn the Top Fundraiser Award."
Gary Aubuchon and professional dance partner Michaela Poole perform at the American Red Cross Florida Southern Gulf Region's StarStruck fund-raiser
"Of course it was worth it," said Aubuchon. "The whole point was to raise money for the Red Cross to provide the work that they do as we are coming into hurricane season. I had lots of wonderful people in the community support my fund-raising with more than 100 contributions."
Each year four business leaders with little or no dance experience are recruited to participate. They train with professional dancers for several months in order to perform at their best at the StarStruck gala
Aubuchon does not consider himself to be even a beginner dancer.
"I never danced the tango before and certainly not at this level," said Aubuchon. "Michaela and I worked six months and going in she said she was not going to teach me how to dance, but teach me to perform one dance. The moves got progressively more difficult right up until the contest."
The event was attended by more than 300 prominent community leaders at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point enjoying good food, music and dancing.
"This year the dancers raised $97,000 toward the $125,000 total raised this year, including our sponsors," said Howell. "Proceeds support the Red Cross mission and citizens of Lee, Collier, Hendry and Glades counties."
Betsy Opyt, a registered dietitian and personal trainer for Healthy Concepts Consulting, won the overall Crowd Favorite Dancer Award for her dance performance with professional partner Jesse Garcia of Naples Ballroom Company.
"Betsy was the best dancer on the floor that night and deserved to be the winner," said Aubuchon. "We were told afterwards that it was the closest votes in the history of StarStruck."
Other performers were Cindy Brown, VP of patient care services for the Heart & Vascular Institute of HealthPark Medical Center, and Eric Cioffi, owner of Well Vending. Their respective dance partners were Greg Kurth of Rhythm in Motion and Kristian Breaux of Fred Astaire Dance Studio.