By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Twenty years ago or so, at an elementary school in Belle Plaine, the public dance career of Scott Bergs was born.
He took the stage, he recalls, wearing a paper bag on his head — inspired by the then-famous “Unknown Comic,” both for the costume’s comedic value and as a nod to his dancing skills. Once all eyes were upon him, he proceeded to dance, of course, a little disco.
“I was the Unknown Disco Dancer at the fifth-grade talent show,” said Bergs, now a partner with Key City Ventures.
That was the context he brought with him to his latest public dance feat.
He and a host of other well-known Mankato-area residents will be participating in the inaugural Dancing With the Mankato Stars event, a fundraiser for the American Red Cross’ Mankato chapter.
If you’ve seen or heard of the show, you know how this works. Professional dancers team up with well-known non-dancers (on TV, they are celebrities; in Mankato, they are community movers and shakers) and the dancers try and transform the non-dancers from buffoons to Baryshnikovs ... or something like that.
Ultimately the organizers hope the community will turn out to see how the local version of the TV show will go over and pay $15 per person while they do.
Bergs has taken the challenge seriously. Just check out his Facebook page, where he’s posted a series of videos of him talking about his dancing talents, his training, his comparisons with professional athletes.
Truth be told, Bergs understands the power of getting the word out. He knows no one watching him that night will be expecting dance floor excellence.
“When you’ve got a balance between dancing and marketing, you go with your strengths,” he joked. “I’ve got a great partner who is extraordinarily patient.”
His partner, for the record, is Emma Glasser, a Minnesota State University student and instructor at Dance Express. He gives Glasser a lot of credit for making him a better dancer.
That sentiment was echoed by John Kind, CEO of the Mankato YMCA.
“What’s hard for me is seeing how effortless and beautiful she makes it look,” Kind said of his partner, Meagan Gerber. “She’s got so much more style than I do. I can get the steps, but she’s got the flair, the facial expressions, all those other things.”
Kind said he’s not exactly new to working on the stage.While he was a student at MSU, he appeared in 12 stage shows, some of which included singing and dancing.
“But that was a long time ago,” he said. “That was 35 or 40 years ago.”
He said he’d considered becoming a theater major, but thought better of it and majored in accounting instead.
More recently, Kind has also participated in the Ellis Street Singers and Merely Players productions.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” he said about the new dancing competition. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Unlike the television show, the Mankato event will be a one-nighter — none of this dragging it out for weeks and weeding people out. There will be judges, and each team will perform one dance.
The dance styles will be varied. Organizers didn’t want to have all the couples doing a jazz or swing dance. Kind and his partner are doing a Broadway-style dance.
Paul Finocchiaro, a dance instructor at MSU, will be dancing a jive style with Michelle Schooff, owner of the Red Sky Lounge, and a quick step with Sarah Person, owner of Exclusively Diamonds.
Finocchiaro said he’s had a lot of fun so far.
“The thing I do is teach people how to dance, so for me, I have lots of ways to do it,” he said. “If you’ve never worked with novice dancers before, it’s hard. The most important quality I have is patience. ... You have to make them feel comfortable, and it’s got to be fun.”
The only snag in the process so far, he said, has been scheduling. It’s not easy to work around the schedules of three busy professionals, but they’ve made it work. They’ve also made a lot of money.
“As far as fundraising goes, the stars are through-the-roof fundraisers,” Finocchiaro said.
And that’s good, because the event is, after all, a fundraiser.
Bob Meyer, executive director of the Mankato Red Cross, said they’re hoping to make about $20,000 from the event.
“We’re looking for a signature event,” Meyer said. “I think this is going to be it. It’s created a lot of buzz, and we’re really not doing a lot of advance work yet.”
Some of the buzz is coming from the competitors themselves.
“My biggest competition is Scott Bergs,” Kind said. “Just look at him, look at who he is.”
Replied Bergs, “I’d love to consider John my biggest competition, but to be honest, John hasn’t danced in a long time.”
Bergs also joked those many sedentary years have caused the muscles in his legs to atrophy.
“In all seriousness, I am very competitive by nature, but here my primary goal is to raise awareness of the Red Cross and all the good it does in the community.”