LaTanya Sheffield and Keri Ruffell, two fit, strong, competitive women, were born to lead.

On the dance floor, they've had to learn something out of character.

"I did have to learn how to follow," says Sheffield, the 1988 Seoul Olympics hurdler who's one of six dancers in Dancing with the Stars of Northern Pima County, the chamber fund-raiser filling a ballroom at the new Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain on Saturday, Jan. 9.

Ruffell has also taken a lead from someone else, in this case instructor David Davis. In so doing, while practicing for the gala, the 1-2-3 Fit owner and operator has found a new passion.

"I love it," Ruffell says. "I'm going to keep doing it. I've always liked dance. It's hard. It's a challenge. It's really good exercise, which I appreciate."

"Dancing requires almost every single core muscle group your body has," says Davis, an instructor at American Dance, the Oracle Road business that donates time and lessons, and provides partners for the six chamber dancers.

Beyond a workout, both women like what Ruffell calls "a creative piece and a technical piece" to dancing. "It's expressive."

Ruffell watched Dancing with the Stars of Northern Pima County a year ago. "'God, I would love to do this,'" she remembers thinking. Ruffell was "really honored" when asked. She's dancing to raise funds for the Senior Olympics and the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce. And she's dancing for herself.

"I get to take dance lessons. It was really easy for me to become committed to this. It's a happy thing. You can't not feel good watching people dance.

"I can come in here in the worst mood, and you don't think about anything else when you're dancing," she says. "I leave here feeling like a million bucks."

Ruffell notes "the fashion aspect of dance is amazing. It's a great excuse to dress up in a bunch of bling all day long."

While her mom dances, Kealy Ruffell, 8, draws a Christmas tree on a piece of paper. It's Christmas Eve. Collin Ruffell, 11, watches his mom move across the dance floor. Keri is getting in one more lesson, maybe her 20th, before the holiday. "More like 30," Davis says. "She's put a lot of extra effort in. She's been working very hard."

Kealy knows the song, and sings the key lyric. "La, La, LaLa," Kealy sings, moving to it. The Ruffells hear the song in the studio, in the car, at home, in their heads.

Sheffield's daughter Jaide, 15, a sophomore at Canyon Del Oro High School, knows her mom's song, too. Two days before Christmas, Jaide is working a video camera to record LaTanya's moves in the studio. They'll view it at home.

"We all laugh at certain parts," Jaide said. "Sometimes, she'll be walking around and do some dance step." The home critics always have a comment.

"Your critics will make you stronger and better," Keri says. "In dance, there's no shortage of that."

"I haven't done ballroom dancing before," Sheffield says. "I didn't know what to expect."

Sheffield was pleased to learn her dance was the samba. Then, she realized, "I had no idea what the samba was." She saw it online. "Oh my God," she said. "I definitely need that WD40," to be limber. "I was intimidated by the movement." Now, she says, "I'm so happy I have this dance."

Davis "really is a great, great instructor," though Sheffield claims to have the superior street moves.

"We're about to battle," Davis quips.

That's how one of their practice sessions goes. Playfully, and purposefully.

There's no music playing when Davis and Sheffield first touch the floor. "When you're going forward, you have to drive forward," Davis tells Sheffield. "It's a step."

"I'm ready," Sheffield says, and she claps for motivation before one of those jolt-like wave moves, starting in one finger and moving up an arm, to the elbow, the shoulder, head and neck, and back out the other arm.

They move. Davis counts the steps. "One, a two, one, a two, one, a two."

"OK, I remember," Sheffield replies. "I have to remember."

"Go," he says … but she doesn't.

"I knew that. No, no, no, no, no."

The music comes on, and they dance until Sheffield stops. "Well, the first half of it was good," she says. In sum, "that wasn't good, but I'll take it." She "collapses" into a chair. Quickly, she's back up. Even when their song is done, and a new tune comes over the player, Sheffield and Davis keep practicing their steps.

Davis makes a mistake.

"Who messed up, Jaide?" LaTanya calls to her daughter. "The star? Or was it the professional?"

"We've got a half-hour more of this," he retorts.

"He's trying to tire me out," the athlete says. "I'm in pretty decent shape."

Actually, Sheffield's in terrific physical condition, and as an athlete she knows how to use her body.

Dancing is "so different" than hurdling, she continues. "What I am actually analyzing, hurdling, in the air, the minute muscles I am looking to energize, I'm actually working over the hurdles. Here, it's more rhythmic. The beat moves you. There's no beat when you're hurdling, it's just 'go.'"

There is a comparable rush between hurdling and dancing.

"I'm not experiencing the Olympic Games, but I am experiencing our national competition," Sheffield says. "Give it 100 percent."

Her charity is Sports Extravaganza, the organization Sheffield operates to get children moving.

"We fight childhood obesity," she says. "It's such an epidemic." To dance at 80 percent of effort "would be a disservice for those kids. When I dance, I'm dancing for them."

She wants them to dance, too.

"The next step is to get the kids out," Sheffield says. "Dancing allows any size, any age, any rhythmic capacity. We want to expand our program with this component. If they can giggle like I giggle …

"This is playful," she says. "My dance is totally fun. I'm having a blast. This is almost therapeutic. I laugh more here than during the day."

Sheffield and Ruffell want to win … as do the other dancers, Oro Valley communications administrator Mary Davis, Oro Valley Chief of Police Danny Sharp, Vitality Medical and Wellness physician Dr. Mahesh Tipirneni, and AAA Landscape's Richard Underwood.

"Competitive mode," says Sheffield, chewing gum playfully but putting her mind in the moment. "This is my competitive mode."

"I need to win," she says. "I want the bigger trophy."

Ruffell wants to win, too. "We're friendly competitors," she allows.

"I feel confident enough that I could do it tomorrow if I had to, but I want to get better," Ruffell says. "I want to get it right."

A year ago, David Davis was a relatively new dance teacher in his first competition. "I'm a better dancer than last year," he says, and his partners are "putting me to the challenge, setting that standard for other people.

"This one's definitely going to blow that out of the water," Davis said of the second annual performance.

Dancing with the Stars

Saturday, Jan. 9

The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain

Registration, reception and a silent auction, 5:30 p.m.

Dinner, program and live auction, 6 p.m.

Tickets, $100 per person

297-2191, or

The dancers

Mary Davis

Town of Oro Valley

Charity: Amphitheater Public Schools Foundation

Keri Ruffell

1-2-3 Fit

Charity: Tucson Senior Olympics Festival

LaTanya Sheffield

Sports Extravaganza Inc.

Charity: Sports Extravaganza

Chief Danny Sharp

Oro Valley Police Department

Charity: Project Graduation, Cañada Del Oro and Ironwood Ridge high schools

Dr. Mahesh Tipirneni

Vitality Medical and Wellness Center

Charity: Southern Arizona Veterans Administration health care system

Richard Underwood

AAA Landscape

Charity: Tu Nidito Ride for a Child in the El Tour de Tucson

Half of each dancer's proceeds go to the chamber, half to the charity of their choice. Donations can be mailed to the chamber office, 200 W. Magee Road, Suite 120, Tucson, 85704, or call the office (297-2191) with a credit card payment.

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