With a week remaining before her dancing debut at the Alzheimer's Association Memory Ball fundraiser, Renee Wooding of Timonium spent her Saturday morning perfecting her salsa routine with her dance partner, Juan Alzamora.
It wasn't a time for wholesale changes — the dance is, for the most part, committed to memory — but Alzamora advised her to shorten a mid-routine leg kick and not to spin so far away in the final flourish.
Small changes, yes, but all are a long way from where Wooding began the process.
"For what she's accomplished, it's incredible," Alzamora said. "She dances like a total professional. It's really good."
Wooding, a senior vice president at PNC Bank and a past president of the Alzheimer's Association board, has been hard at work for the two months to learn the routine for the dancing competition, a process she says has taken her out of her comfort zone — and allowed her to give back to the organization she spent the better part of the last decade with.
The Alzheimer's Association's Memory Ball 2012 gala is scheduled for Saturday, April 14, at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel. The highlight of the annual event has become the dance competition among individuals and couples who are dancing to support theAlzheimer'sAssociation.
"It's been a pretty steep learning curve," said Wooding, who rehearsed with Alzamora at The Fitness Rave in White Marsh.
"It's been fun, (but) you know it depends on the day," she said. "There are some days when I feel demoralized, but most of the time it's been a great process for me. I feel like I've learned so much in a short period of time."
Though she's never really watched "Dancing with the Stars," the television show that the competition is based upon, Wooding watched some online video clips from the show to see what she was in for.
Big mistake, she said.
"They look more like cheerleading routines," she said. "They're flipping people around, and I thought 'oh God, I'm in trouble.' "
The reality for her has been something a bit less daring.
She approached Lydia Haskell at the Fitness Rave and asked her for help, and Haskell introduced Wooding to Alzamora, a zumba teacher at the Fitness Rave who also happens to work for theU.S. Department of Defense.
Alzamora, who lives in Forest Hill and also teaches at Interactive Fitness in Timonium, agreed to train her.
Haskell provided practice space and assistance to the pair, and Niss and Alexandra Albaig of SalsaNow choreographed the dance and gave Wooding lessons at The Promenade, a facility in Woodlawn.
Some of the participants are dancing with fellow amateurs, though Wooding chose to go with a professional. In doing so, she learned just how much effort it takes to get to that level.
"When you see people who dance well, they make it look so easy, and you learn how hard it is to make it look easy," she said.
For Wooding, only the dancing part is new. She knows how important the Memory Ball is as a fundraiser for theAlzheimer'sAssociation, which she left in 2008.
"I know how much what they do makes a difference for people who are suffering with the disease," she said. "And with baby boomers aging, if we don't get a cure for this, it could bankrupt the health care system."
For several years, the organization's main fundraiser was a dinner and a silent auction. Wooding said the event required a lot of work for the staff and ultimately didn't raise a lot of money, prompting the switch to a "Dancing with the Stars" format.
"It makes the event so much more fun," she said.
Wooding and Alzamora were assigned a $7,500 fundraising goal for the event, and two weeks ago, they held a Zumbathon in the parking lot at The Fitness Rave to help secure that milestone.
"It was three hours of Zumba, and all kinds of people showed up to dance in a chilly parking lot on a gray Saturday morning, and we raised over $1,200 that day, which was great," she said. "All the instructors donated their time, it was a lot of fun, and we raised a pretty decent sum of money."
They asked for a minimum donation of $10, though many participants gave more, and held a raffle to supplement the fundraising.
They ultimately hit their fundraising goal last week, and as of Monday, had raised, $8,297.
"Now we can focus on the dance part and stop worrying about the money so much," she said. "But it's great. People are still making donations, and we really appreciate that."
Her husband, David, is a currentAlzheimer'sAssociation board member.
Renee Wooding said when she told her husband she was going to dance at this year's event, he had a quick response, "You know I'm not going to do this, right?"
"I can't dance that well," he admitted. "She's really come a long way with that."
Still, he'll be part of the sellout crowd Saturday night at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, and is looking forward to seeing the final product of the tireless rehearsing his wife and Juan have been through.
"I think it's going to be really good," he said. "They've been diligently practicing, so I'm not really worried about it. I think they're going to do a heck of a job."
Renee Wooding anticipates a combination of nerves and excitement Saturday evening, while Alzamora jokingly acknowledged that the pressure was building as the competition approached.
"If I drop her on her head, at least I know it's for a good cause," he said.
The Alzheimer's Association Memory Ball 2012 gala will be held Saturday, April 14, from 7 p.m. to midnight, at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, 700 Aliceanna St. The black-tie gala will feature a cocktail reception, full-course dinner, live music by Round Midnight and a showcase of local ballroom talent, with ABC2 News Anchor Jamie Costello as emcee. Tickets are $300. For tickets, sponsorships or more information, call 410-561-9099 or go to http://www.alz.org/maryland.