Bliss CARES partners community leaders with professional dancers to raise money for transgender housing

By : Jeremy Williams
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Bliss CARES, a nonprofit healthcare organization in Central Florida, has created a new dance competition to help raise money for transgender emergency housing.

“Sweet Dreams: Dancing for TRANSitional Housing” will partner 11 amateur dancers, all LGBTQ community leaders in Central Florida, with professional dancers for a night of fast-paced, fancy footwork at the DoubleTree by Hilton in downtown Orlando on July 13.

“Bliss CARES’ goal is to create semi-permanent housing for the transgender and gender nonconforming communities where they can have access to health services, life skills and career counseling to prepare them to live on their own in their own safe space,” the organization announced at a press conference held at the Bliss CARES office on June 7.

The event will be hosted by the Orlando Sentinel’s Scott Maxwell and former “Philips Phile” co-host Lynn Dictor, aka Moira, with a celebrity panel of judges: District 4 Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, Parliament House Entertainment Director Darcel Stevens and local theatre legend Michael Wanzie. Orlando drag icon Miss Sammy will also make a special appearance.

So who are these 11 brave community leaders who will put their bodies on the line for this amazing cause? We have gathered profiles on these brave souls, matched up alongside profiles on the professionals, which you can read below. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

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Commissioner Regina Hill, a staunch advocate and supporter for the residents of District 5 and City of Orlando, is committed to the advancement and creation of community enriching projects, policies and proactive solutions. Hill approaches her public service with the mindset best stated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Everyone has the power for greatness, not for fame but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.” Since taking office in 2013, Hill has advocated for more jobs, educational opportunities, business development and affordable housing in District 5.

With more than 15 years as a professional ballroom instructor and choreographer, Eddie Rivera has brought a unique passion and excitement to the dance floor. Rivera is the owner of Dance It Studio. The native of Puerto Rico classifies his style and technique as a mix of Latin and ballroom, even though he was formally trained in ballet and jazz. Prior to moving to the U.S., Rivera was the “go-to” performer for shows, videos and concerts for celebrities—including renowned tenor, Andrea Bocelli.

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Brianna Rockmore is a sales account manager for Watermark Publishing Group, an active member of the transgender community and volunteered with Come Out with Pride last year. Watermark is a multi-faceted media company using opportunities and innovations to communicate and advance LGBTQ interests. Rockmore is also a member of the Board of Directors of the recently renamed Pride Chamber, formerly known as MBA Orlando.

Hannah Pickard has been a ballroom teacher and professional competitor since 2012. Two years later, Pickard moved to Orlando to focus on her dance career. With her new home at Dance It Studio, Hannah also teaches at workshops and schools around Orlando. She holds Dance Vision International Dancers Association (DVIDA) certifications in both smooth and rhythm and is member of the National Dance Council Of America (NDCA).

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Martha Are serves as the executive director of the Homeless Services Network (HSN) of Central Florida, the lead agency for the Central Florida Continuum of Care (CoC). Are has 30 years of experience in homeless services ranging from frontline work to program management, statewide advocacy and staffing the governor’s council on homelessness in North Carolina. The vision of the HSN is to break the cycle of homelessness in Central Florida—making homelessness for neighbors rare, brief and a one-time event.

Hailing from Mount Morris, Michigan, Glenn Iverson moved to Florida’s west coast shortly after graduating high school. His first career endeavor was in the ballroom dance sector where he spent 10 years as a dance instructor, choreographer and studio manager and was the recipient of the Fred Astaire Dance Studios coveted Freddy Award. For more than 20 years, Iverson has been involved in the automobile industry holding positions in sales and finance management, marketing and call center management and general manager.

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Luis Bolden is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who joined the News 6 team in Sept. 2001. Before Orlando, Bolden reported and anchored in Jackson, Mississippi, where he won three Associated Press Awards for Best General News Story. He also worked in television in Memphis, Tennessee. He is a thrill-seeker who has enjoyed skydiving, hang gliding and parasailing. In another life, Louis was a three-time national champion cheerleading coach, a distance runner and an aerobics instructor.

Karen Elmore graduated from the University of Memphis with her undergraduate degree in clinical psychology, but she was destined to dance. While in college, she was a member of the nine-time national champion Memphis State Dance Squad. Elmore has danced with the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers and Walt Disney World. She also took her talents on the road touring with artists like Earth, Wind and Fire and Baby Face. During her career she has also garnered movie credits with roles in “Cinderella Story,” “Like Mike” and “Orange County.”

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Shelby Norwich has been in real estate for over 17 years and is currently one of the top five producers at Olde Town Brokers for the last six years. She is a huge supporter of local artists and the local art scene, serving on the Downtown Arts District Board for six years. She is also a Circle Member for the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center and has been on the Runway to Hope committee where she assists local children and their families who have been impacted by pediatric cancer.

Norwich will be solo dancing for the event.

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Juan Rodriguez was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and graduated from the University of Sagrado Corazon with a degree in communications. In 2016, under the guidance and direction of Dr. Roberto Ortiz, Rodriguez started Bliss CARES. The mission of Bliss CARES is to save lives by treating and preventing the spread of HIV, Hepatitis and STDs. Rodriguez has dedicated his life to treatment, prevention and eradicating the AIDS epidemic. He works tirelessly, helping those in need receive the care and treatment they deserve.

David Hunter is an entertainer and dancer who is based in Orlando and has been featured throughout Central Florida, including at the world-famous Parliament House. Some of Hunter’s numerous accomplishments include being named Mr. Sapphire 2015, National Mr. Entertainer of the Year 2013, Mr. Gay USofA 2010, Mr. Continental 2009 and Mr. Stonewall 2009 from the Stonewall Club in Huntington, West Virginia.

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Jennifer Foster is the founding executive director of the One Orlando Alliance, a coalition of over 30 LGBTQ organizations in Central Florida formed in the aftermath of the Pulse tragedy to help with the survivors and victims’ families. Under Foster’s leadership, the One Orlando Alliance continues to offer guidance, help and support to the local community. In June 2016, Foster was appointed by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer to serve on the One Orlando Fund. She is the co-founder of the Human Rights Campaign in Central Florida, serving on the local board for 10 years and national board for eight. She also served on the statewide board of the Florida Red and Blue campaign in 2004 to oppose Florida’s marriage amendment. Foster is the owner and president of Foster Productions, Inc.

Foster will be solo dancing for the event.

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Marco Quiroga serves as program director for The Contigo Fund, which launched in response to the horrific massacre that occurred on Latin Night at Pulse nightclub in Orlando targeting LGBTQ people of color. The Contigo Fund is an effort focused on medium- to long-term solutions to disparities impacting Pulse-affected and historically marginalized LGBTQ communities in Orlando, seeking to strengthen and network existing agencies and to identify and support grassroots efforts that focus on healing, education and empowerment. Quiroga has a long history as an advocate for the LGBTQ, immigrant and racial justice movements, driven as a result of his own life experience as an undocumented and queer person of color.

Colby Kopf began his professional dance career in 2012, teaching in Vero Beach, Florida. After moving to Orlando in 2013, Dance It Studio quickly became his home. Kopf has performed for several events around Orlando, and has even performed for Gloria Estefan at her restaurant, Bongos, in Disney Springs.

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Jamie McFadden is the founder and executive chef of Cuisiniers Catered Cuisine & Events and Snowbirds Vintners. McFadden’s “fresh approach” cooking style and attention to detail has proven to be the perfect ingredients in creating an exciting and successful career path. His over 30 years working in the hospitality industry has allowed him opportunities to wear many hats including as restaurateur, caterer, teacher and vintner. Career highlights for McFadden include preparing two sold-out dinners at The James Beard House, appearing on “The Today Show” for their Dinner in the Sky segment, launching The PEAS Foundation, his Snowbirds Vintners brand and the 2018 opening of Sandy Ridge Vineyards.

Roberto Sanchez has been dancing, instructing and choreographing for the past decade. He has worked with local artists including J Randall and Nine Diva and performed at an XL 106.7 fundraiser hosted by Chris Kirkpatrick of *NSYNC. Sanchez also choreographed two numbers for the Orlando Predators Prowlers. Currently, Sanchez teaches at Vixen Talent Productions and is the creative director and owner of the youth performance dance team Roberto’s Performance Dolls that perform in Central Florida.

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In January 2012, Luis Martinez was appointed by Dyer as the director of multicultural affairs to enhance the engagement of the Hispanic and multicultural communities with the city. Martinez assists and makes recommendations to Dyer in the implementation of city policies and initiatives that foster inclusion, acceptance and diversity. In addition, he serves as Dyer’s spokesperson to local Hispanic/multicultural media, LGBTQ liaison and supports the Economic Development Department by providing bilingual orientation to Latin American entrepreneurs.

Daniel Martinez has performed all over Central Florida and he has no intention of stopping anytime soon. A Rollins graduate, Martinez has appeared in productions of “Guys and Dolls” as Rusty Charlie and “Reefer Madness” as Ralph. He decided after graduating at Rollins that he was going to make Orlando his home. Since his professional Orlando debut in “Sing-along Cabaret a Go-Go,” he has been in Pepe in “West Side Story,” the Ethnic Dude in “The Toxic Avenger Musical,” Henry in “South Pacific” and Mogs in “Wasteland.” Currently, Martinez works at Universal Studios as a performer, running with raptors and wreaking havoc (and sometimes crooning) over at 30 Rock.

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Luis Mercado began his career in Puerto Rico as the public relations director for a private university system. In 2000, he accepted a position in Central Florida as a news reporter for Univision Orlando, later becoming a news anchor for Telemundo Orlando. In 2010, Mercado became the host for “Despierta Tampa Bay” where he covers news and conducts interviews related to the Hispanic community. In 2016, he returned to TV news as a morning news anchor for “Noticias Univision Orlando.” He is the 98.1 Salsa y Más news announcer for its morning show, “El y Ella.” Mercado has also created his own advertising agency, Image Builders Consulting Group.

From a very early age, Jose Perez knew he was born to perform. This Puerto Rican native started dancing at the age of 12 and has never looked back. Folkloric, jazz, hip hop and salsa first brought him to the dance floor, but four years of formal ballet training brought all his dancing skills together. In 2008, Perez fell in love with ballroom dancing and began training intensely as a professional instructor at Dance It Studio.

“Sweet Dreams: Dancing for TRANSitional Housing” will take place Saturday, July 13 from 6-11 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Downtown Orlando. You can show your support for your favorite dancer(s) by donating in their name at SweetDreamsEvent.eventbrite.com. For more information on this and other events, and to learn more about the amazing work Bliss CARES does, visit BlissCARES.org.

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