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Taneytown couple on dance floor to benefit Alzheimer's research

On May 3, a Taneytown couple will take their tango to the dance floor to raise money for the Alzheimer's Association's Greater Maryland Chapter.

Jennifer and Raul Fuentes will be one of 10 couples, and the only Carroll Countians, competing in this year's Dancing Stars of Frederick competition at the Alzheimer's Association annual Forget-Me-Not Gala. The annual fundraising and awareness event will take place in Walkersville in Frederick County.

"My husband loves dancing, and I enjoy dancing with him," Jennifer said. "It seemed like a good fit, with both of us having strong ties to Alzheimer's and me working with it on a professional basis."

Kristen Weddle, event organizer and development coordinator for the Alzheimer's Association, reported that last year's gala raised more than $100,000, with the money going to support local programs and to further national research efforts.

Weddle said she anticipates this year's event will be packed with approximately 300 guests attending.

The dancing competitors get eight professional dance lessons prior to the event to prepare for the competition.

Raul, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, said he grew up dancing, but the lessons were needed, he said, as the style of dancing he will be doing in the competition is very different from the style of dancing to which he's accustomed.

According to Raul, American tango is more technically structured than the street style tango he was doing while growing up.

"The American tango is completely different. It is more of a ballroom experience than a street style of dance," he said. "The main challenge has been the ballroom and framing of the dance. I didn't realize it would be that hard."

Jennifer said that she really has no background in dance. But she does have a background in athletics, having focused on field hockey and lacrosse while attending North Carroll High School.

And despite her lack of experience, she said she is excited about the gala because it is providing an opportunity to do something fun with her husband, and it's for a cause that they both want to support.

"I thought this would be something fun for my husband and I to do together while also supporting a local community organization," Jennifer said.

Both Jennifer and Raul have had loved ones affected by Alzheimer's and dementia.

Jennifer, a physical therapist for Frederick Memorial Hospital's home health programs, said she also deals with patients suffering from the disease.

"Working in physical therapy for 16 years, I've dealt with many families and patients with Alzheimer's and I know I will have many more," she said. "It's a horrible thing for a family to deal with."

Her grandmother was diagnosed a year ago with Alzheimer's. Her grandmother also has a progressive form of cancer and is on hospice care.

Raul said that the dancing is secondary to the goal of increasing awareness about what Alzheimer's is and how to deal with it.

"A lot of people know what [Alzheimer's] is but I don't know if a lot of people have first-hand experience with it to know how devastating it is," said Raul, whose grandmother, 99, currently has some dementia. "Our main goal is to raise awareness and raise funds for the cause."

As of April 23, the couple had $950 in pledges, according to their website, http://act.alz.org/goto/Fuentes.

A panel of local judges will determine the best dancers in each of three categories — tango, waltz and swing.

But the competition goes beyond fancy footwork. Each dancing couple is also asked to reach out to their network of contacts to get votes, i.e. dollars. Each vote costs a dollar and at the end of the event, the couple who receives the most votes, raises the most money, will be named the event star and will be presented with a trophy.

Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior, according to the Alzheimer's Association. More than 5 million Americans are living with the disease and an estimated 500,000 people die every year because of Alzheimer's, according to the association's website, http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_facts_and_figures.asp.

The Alzheimer's Association Forget-Me-Not Gala will take place on Saturday, May 3, 7 to 11 p.m., at the Walkersville Social Hall. Tickets are $95 per person. To learn more about the event or the dancers, go to http://www.alz.org/maryland.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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