700 Fifth Avenue South, Naples, FL
NAPLES — Kelly Grant and Nancy Ortner put on their dancing shoes and made it a girl’s night out Wednesday, shimmying and shaking to ’70s classics at Vergina Restaurant’s weekly dance contest.
The Atlanta-based mother-daughter team, vacationing at their second home in Naples, tore up the small, dimly lit dance floor as they boogied amid seven other couples to Earth, Wind and Fire, Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees and others.
“We both have been to the restaurant before, but never took part in the contest. But we love to dance,” said Ortner, 60, taking a breather at the restaurant’s bar between dance rounds.
“We saw they were having a contest, plus our husbands are out of town, so we decided to come,” added Grant, 33, excitedly.
Vergina started the Dancing Under the Star competition in June. Every Wednesday since, couples of varying ages enter the competition, hoping to win prizes and a spot in periodic semifinals. First place winners get a $100 gift certificate and an entry into the semifinals. Second and third each receive two $50 gift certificates to the restaurant. First place winners in the semifinal rounds get a stay at the Inn on Fifth and a spa day. The winning couple at the finals on Nov. 17 will be awarded a cruise.
“This is entertainment not only for the typical Fifth Ave. crowd but a mix of everybody,” said Gligor Tuparov, vice president and chief financial officer of the restaurant. “We are seeing a generation shift and are now seeing people here dancing in the 30s, 40s, 50s, as well as the 60s and 70s.”
Besides attracting an eclectic crowd, the contest is geared towards amateur dancers with no professionals allowed.
“The people entering are like just you and me,” said Dave Elliot, local radio personality and host of the dance competition, “Regular people coming here to have a good time.”
Anna Mann, 49, a Naples area interior designer came with her friend and client Sabino Maione, 46, from Ontario, Canada, for a fun night out. They came to the restaurant for drinks and ended up in the contest, dancing all night until they were out of breath.
“It’s mainly about friends, letting loose and enjoying yourself,” said Maione, sipping a drink, drenched in sweat and flushed from dancing three rounds. “We are having the time of our lives.”
Criteria for judging the teams is as unrestricted and arbitrary. Elliot picks judges from the crowd and they confer at the end of the competition. He said they are not looking for anything specific when choosing winners.
“It depends on the couple,” said Elliot, “Sometimes it’s the best dancers. Sometimes it’s just a matter of who has the most chemistry or connection.”
Couples on the floor displayed various types of dance moves and styles. Rollie and Linda Carroll of Naples jived with the vigor and energy of people half their age while Grant and Ortner hustled to Barry White.
“We are trying to revive some old habits,” said Tuparov. “We want to bring back the American tradition of dance contests where people are free to do any style of dance they want.”
The teams got together and swayed to Stevie Wonder for the only slow dance of the evening. Grant and Ortner made the best out of being an all-female duo.
“We aren’t a couple,” said Grant on the dance floor with her hands in the air waving to the music, “We can’t really slow dance.”
As the night wound down, entertainer Melvin German’s cover of Kool & The Gang’s “Get Down On It” beckoned the couples back on stage for one last dance.
“Oh, no. I don’t expect to win anything,” said Ortner laughing while dancing in the middle of the floor.
“If we win, she’s my ringer like in golf,” she said, pointing to her daughter.
After two hours of dancing, Elliot gets the teams together to announce the winners.
“And in third place is the team with the two loveliest ladies,” Elliot said, gesturing to Grant and Ortner.
They both jumped up and down when they realized who he was pointing to.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if we won or not,” Grant said. "It was just fun. We had a lot of fun.”