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Danceathon Gala Does a Heart Good

February 11, 1988

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More than 400 supporters of the county chapter of the American Heart Assn. paid $150 each to be a part of it Saturday night at Le Meridien, site of a heart-stopping danceathon that almost turned Newport Beach into a city that never sleeps.

With its throbbing big-city beat, stage smoke, zany props and costumed dancers (members of New York's Le Masquerade troupe), the "Heart to Heart Gala" made all previous county galas seem like so many tea parties.

The only things missing were keep-away ropes and a snooty guard deciding who would enter and who would not . The rest was decidedly Big Apple.

Fashions were outrageous: Gala chairwoman JoAnne Stewart twisted and boogied in a trendy cloud of trailing taffeta, miniskirt beneath ("for when she sits and crosses her legs," said Gildas, her designer, ogling from the sidelines).

Vice chairwoman Bari Lynne Novak stunned heart supporters for the second year in a row in a revealing, rock-out number by Ellene Warren with bursts of turkey feathers at the shoulders, a baubled, bangled and beaded bustier , and a mini-bustle that swayed with a wiggle when she walked (and danced and danced and danced).

The evening began serenely enough. Arriving about 6:30 p.m., the black-tie crowd sipped champagne as they perused silent auction items in a reception room. Among goodies up for bid: tickets to a taping of the TV game show "Jeopardy" (host Alex Trebek is a boyfriend of Novak); a black-lace teddy (men bid on it, women did not) and an old scrapbook chock-full of movie memorabilia.

Then it happened. The beat. A pounding, throbbing, jungle-drum beat that seemed to hypnotize guests, then propel them into a ballroom wired with a high-tech sound system and high-stepping deejay.

Hurriedly--frantically, almost--guests found their tables, plopped down their champagne tulips and took to the parquet, where they held court between courses of sea bass in a heart-shaped pastry puff; cream of potato and leek soup; salad with walnut oil vinaigrette; veal chop, and chocolate cream brulee.

Not exactly your keep-the-aorta-pumping dinner. "No, tonight's dinner is heart happy, not heart healthy," said Dr. Richard Pitts, president of the Heart Assn. board. "The No. 1 thing a person can do to prevent heart attack is find out what his cholesterol count is and then make it as low as possible." Oh well. "Dancing is excellent for the heart as long as you have an OK from your doctor," Pitts said. "At least this is a good night for burning off cholesterol. This is aerobic exercise."

"Where's the treadmill test?" asked one graying gentleman, taking the dance floor along with Sylvester Stallone, Joan Rivers and Pee-wee Herman seem-alikes--all members of Le Masquerade. "This is our fantasy set," said Le Masquerade president Dennis Schussel, who noted the troupe had spent New Year's Eve in Las Vegas with Frank Sinatra and 3,000 guests.

"Tonight's magic comes from our dancers creating a mood in costume and interacting with guests on the dance floor. We get them involved. The bottom line is they want to be children and we let them."

Whew. Net proceeds were estimated at a very grown-up $70,000.

On the scene: Wolf and Anne Stern (a study in swinging pearl fringe); Benjamin Epstein (who snapped souvenir garters onto his trouser thighs); Lois Driggs Cannon and Buzz Aldrin; Susan Barlow (sleek in body-hugging black velvet); Paul and Virginia Knott Bender; Lon and Mary Ann Wells; Beverly Thompson and Bob Bucci; Mimi and Tom Crosson; Claire and Nathan Rosenberg; county Supervisor Gaddi H. and Elaine Vasquez; Ellene Warren (who called Novak's dress her Los Angeles store's swan song--she's selling the hip boutique and doing custom only, she said); Jim and Barbara Glabman; Stan and Ollie Hill (in siren red); Scott and Mary Lou Hornsby; Steve and Hedda Marosi; Mark Stein, and William Stewart.

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