By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS, firstname.lastname@example.org
TRAVERSE CITY — Kevin Fitzpatrick is as popular with audiences as he is with patients.
With only one more event to go, the Traverse City dentist is the leading fundraiser in this year's SwingShift and the Stars Dance-Off for Charity. The four-event competition began in September and concludes today with a finale show at the City Opera House.
Fitzpatrick is one of six local "celebrities" competing in this year's contest to raise money for favorite local charities. So far he and dance instructor-partner Jennifer Howard have collected $22,091 for the Traverse Health Clinic, which will use the donations to support its dental access program.
"He's more surprised than we are," said Michele Lurvey, practice manager at Traverse Dental Associates, where Fitzpatrick practices general dentistry. "He took dance lessons before he got married a few years ago and the dance instructor said he'd never seen anybody so robotic. But he has a very charismatic personality and for that to transfer to dance makes sense."
Besides Fitzpatrick, the fifth annual competition features Rev. Homer Nye and instructor Jennifer Halstead, dancing for Food Rescue of Northwest Michigan; Erika Erickson and instructor Cliff Shanoski, dancing for Michigan Blood; Kelly Ignace and instructor Rodney Woodring, dancing for Single MOMM; Tammy Tarsa and instructor Victor Dinsmoore, dancing for Hospice of Michigan; and Craig Rosenberg and instructor Liz Reincke, dancing for Old Town Playhouse. Together the dance teams have raised more than $105,000 for their charities so far.
During competition events, the teams perform in front of a live audience who can vote for their favorite couple for a minimum donation toward one of the six charities. Donation totals and the winning couple — determined by the cumulative audience vote and judges' scores — will be announced at today's finale event.
Lurvey, who plans to attend with several colleagues, said Fitzpatrick has the weight of his office and its clientele behind him. Besides posting a life-size cardboard cut-out of the dentist in the reception area, the practice's 25 staffers have worn Traverse Health Clinic T-shirts to work on Fridays and have conducted several in-house promotions, included selling cut-out stars to patients to display in the lobby.
And that's not all.
"We make little funny pictures of Fred Astaire with (Fitzpatrick's) head on them and put them in rooms he's working in or on his desk," Lurvey said. "He has spent so much of his private time doing this that we try to lift him on our shoulders."
While Fitzpatrick is ahead in fundraising, Tarsa and Dinsmoore are leading in dance points, with Erika Erickson and Cliff Shanoski just one-tenth of a point behind.
Today's finale show begins at 7:15 p.m., with doors opening at 6:30. For tickets or more information, contact the City Opera House at cityoperahouse.org or 941-8082 or visit swingshiftandthestars.com.