Hollywood glamour is no stranger to Montecito. Between all the entertaining royalty who call 93108 their home, soap operas and movies such as It's Complicated, many film production crews have used this town as a backdrop for their shows. Now, after 2½ years, the secrecy, intense buzz and questions about would it ever happen, producer Ryan Seacrest’s long-awaited show Montecito is ready for its close-up.
The six one-hour episodes of Montecito will be run as digital series on the A&E website, A&E App, a division of Comcast Xfinity (rather than on the channel itself), as well as Hulu, and will be released for viewing this Friday.
Seacrest, known for hosting some of the most popular TV shows ever produced, has changed the landscape of reality television with mega hits such as American Idol, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, New Year's Eve in Times Square and Dancing with the Stars. These shows have put the 40-year-old juggernaut at the forefront of television producers today.
Without giving too much away (a spoiler alert), the basic story line for the six-episode docu-drama is about the world of competitive dancing called "dancesport," a big business with some students spending up to $100,000 per year in lessons, costumes and competitions. The producers and local actresses want to be clear that the Montecito series is not a reality show about "bored housewives," as was once rumored.
Montecito was chosen as a background for the show after getting a tip from Hilda Wynn, granddaughter of actor Ed Wynn and a Hollywood insider, that amateur dance competitions could make a good reality show. Eventually the idea made its way to Seacrest, who developed the show.
The choice of Santa Barbara came about because of the Santa Barbara Dance Center, owned by David Alvarez in downtown since 2005. Alvarez is one of the most successful and sought-after teachers in the country, having won many consecutive national awards for Best Dance Studio and Best Teacher based on his placements in the competitions.
Seacrest also felt that the area is as much of a character as any of the cast members. Montecito conjures up beauty, affluence, celebrities, lushly landscaped estates, and prestige as a worldwide wedding and vacation destination, as well as home to Alvarez’s dance studio. The producers are banking on the 93108 area for its cachet and a place of interest viewers would recognize and want to live.
When the Montecito project was first floated, the local rumor mill was in full force, speculating about possible casting choices. It was almost like Cinderella: Which lovely lady's foot would fit the golden slipper? Many names were mentioned, and some of the original choices who were signed were dropped as the filming progressed.
The show's cast includes five local women: Mary Anne Contreras, Erika Wilson, Arlene Montesano, and mother and daughter duo Patty Connors and Aubree Conners. Montesano and the Connorses have all danced competitively for many years with teacher Alavarez at his Santa Barbara studio and in national competitions.
The plot line "skinny" has Montesano coming back to ballroom dancing after a 10-year absence and finding her place as Alvarez’s top student taken over by Patty Connors. There is also competition among the dance instructors, who include Rumen Atanasov, Bonnie Bayard, Jaime Bayard, Jonathan Curtis and Ray Crutcher.
The story follows the women to competitions in Scottsdale and Palm Desert. Every cast member has his or her own story arc, and romance is in the mix.
Contreras told me over an iced coffee at a Montecito coffee shop about her character: "The show plays up my role as an empty nester 'wondering what’s next.'"
Contreras, a Los Angeles actress, mom of two daughters and owner of an event planning business called Swank, was reluctant at first because of being a novice dancer. She had 15 lessons before the first competition. Contreras and her partner, Bayard from Los Angeles, danced and did the rumba, cha cha cha and East Coast swing. It was the real thing and not staged for the show.
"I loved the opportunity to learn how to ballroom dance," Contreras said. "I so admire the dedication and discipline involved, and Ryan Seacrest gave me the opportunity to check this off my bucket list. It was so much fun.”
The series was shot in and around Santa Barbara and Montecito and in the Alvarez dance studio at 127 W. Canon Perdido St.
“Shooting the series was a great experience for me," Alvarez said. "I enjoyed the crew and getting closer to the cast members. It unleashed a longtime dream of mine.”
Alvarez was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance in 2009. Seacrest encouraged Alvarez to have his own signature competition venue. Alvarez jumped on the idea and now owns a dance competition event in Hawaii called the Hawaii Star Ball taking place Sept. 23-26. Alvarez ran the Arthur Murray franchise in Honolulu before moving to Santa Barbara.
Aubree Connors, the daughter of tennis great Jimmy Connors, said she learned a lot from working on the show.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity," she said. "I think people can relate to the mother/daughter relationship that my mom, Patty, and I bring to the show. Every family goes thorough rough patches. Dancing has always been a part of my life, and to be able to share this passion of mine with the world is amazing. I just hope people enjoy it as much as I did.”
Wilson, an interior designer and cast member, said, "Many locals are unaware that there is a large ballroom dancing culture in Santa Barbara which has the top teacher and top studio in the nation. This show will be an eye-opener."
Due to its digital nature, the series can be watched one episode at a time or all six consecutively. Either way, the wait is over and the “show will go on” this Friday.
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