Last fall, Stacey Rizza, M.D., walked out of a meeting a bit dazed, having just committed to dancing on stage in front of an audience. Around the same time, one of her colleagues, Mark Pagnano, M.D., also said yes — after several requests — to a public performance. Neither, they assure us, are dancers. But both agreed to step out of their comfort zones and onto the dance floor for a good cause: Dancing for the Arts Take VIII, a fundraiser that pairs local celebrities with professional dancers to raise money for youth arts education and the Greater Rochester Arts and Cultural Trust.
"I was utterly shocked and honored to be asked," Dr. Rizza, an infectious disease specialist at Mayo Clinic, tells us. She alternates between words like "excited" and "intimidated" when discussing the challenge of learning to ballroom dance. "I enjoy dancing, but have not taken a dance lesson since ballet when I was around 7 years old," she says. Now she's strapping on her dancing shoes (with 2.5-inch heels) to train with professional dancer Mike Anderson. The dance they'll perform is a "technically challenging" one, Dr. Rizza says, complete with spins and lifts that have had her reconsidering her cookie intake. "I'll find myself thinking, 'I probably shouldn't have had that third or fourth cookie. Poor Mike!'" she says.
Dr. Pagnano, an orthopedic surgeon, tells us it has also been years since he last danced. Or sort of danced. Once upon a time, Dr. Pagnano was "an enthusiastic participant" in the "east-coast punk-rock scene" — though he is "not sure that 1980s slam-dancing counts here." When professional dancer April Dahl first showed him the dance she had planned for them, it was decidedly not of the freeform, punk-rock variety. "I did believe she was out of her mind with the level of complexity," Dr. Pagnano tells us. But weekly lessons have gone well. "I have neither dropped her nor knocked her unconscious with an elbow," Dr. Pagnano reports, though he confesses to "stepping on her toes and finding myself disoriented with dizziness from multiple turns on more than one occasion."
Both Dr. Rizza and Dr. Pagnano tell us they've received support — and some gentle ribbing — since announcing their plans. "My family and friends are happy and excited for me, and also saw the humor in it," says Dr. Rizza. So, too, have Dr. Pagnano's friends and family, including his son, Eric, a professional dancer who performs with the Minnesota Ballet. He and the rest of the Pagnano clan have remained supportive, Dr. Pagnano says, "despite the reputational risk to the family name."
While the good doctors are quick to poke fun at themselves, they're serious about the cause they're supporting. Eric "got his start at a summer program in Rochester, so my family knows firsthand what high-quality arts programming can do for those in our community," Dr. Pagnano tells us. "It is a pleasure to help give back to our local arts scene through Dancing for the Arts."
To see Dr. Rizza and Dr. Pagnano perform live on April 13, purchase a ticket to Dancing with the Arts. If you can't attend, you can still support the cause by making a donation in honor of Dr. Rizza or Dr. Pagnano. Or both.
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