Jeannie Malik loved watching actors dance in musicals as a child, but she was more interested in choir and baton twirling.
Yet, in 2012, at the age of 56, the novice dancer dazzled the crowd at the Dancing with Our Stars competition, performing an impressive tap dance with county supervisor Jim Patterson.
“I’d never worn tap shoes,” she said.
Despite having a spinal cord injury in 2008 that made it difficult to walk or drive, Malik won the event – thanks in part to her dedication and a huge host of supporters.
“I took several months of private lessons,” she said. “I wanted to look like I knew what I was doing.”
Soon after Malik took off her dance shoes, she stepped into a new role – as the Friends of the Atascadero Library’s as event producer for Atascadero’s Dancing with Our Stars, now a wildly successful community charity event that drew close to 650 people this year.
“It’s the biggest community event to ever hit Atascadero,” Malik said.
Her success with the event – as both a dancer and organizer – is no surprise to those who know her. Malik, who walks 6.5 miles every morning, has a long list of interesting life experiences to list a few:
- Homecoming Queen at Allan Hancock College
- Miss California Rollerskating Queen
- SLO Triathlon participant
- Completed 435-mile bike ride (30,000 foot elevation) in Colorado.
- Broke the national record for catching the largest dogtooth tuna fish (88 pounds) in Vanuatu, an island in the Pacific.
Born in Maine, Malik seldom stayed in a hometown very long. Her father, an Air Force accountant, constantly moved the family, to places like France, the Philippines, and New Mexico.
“As a kid, you don’t have a blueprint for anything else,” she said. “So it’s life.”
While she was able to experience several places and cultures, there was always a sense of impermanence.
“The hard thing was, when we’d go overseas all we could bring was a suitcase,” she said. “Everything else was left in storage. And you’re there for three years, so you can’t wait to return to your toys. It would feel like Christmas when we returned to the States.”
The family was in Lompoc long enough for her to attend high school. Following 4 years of college and 2 degrees, she started her own family in Bakersfield and eventually she settled in Atascadero in 1994.
“I finally have roots,” said Malik, who met her future husband, Greg Malik, in 2002 while swimming laps at Kennedy Club Fitness.
After 28 years in the dentistry business, Jeannie joined Greg’s real estate office as marketing manager in 2005.
With an appreciation for her permanent home, she became active in the community, first with her children: Boys Scouts, Girl Scouts, PTA, Committee for Atascadero Public Schools. And when the children became adults, her efforts continued: Chamber of Commerce, Friends of the Atascadero Library, Quota of Atascadero and more.
But her most exciting role is with Dancing with Our Stars, a dancing event that truly has legs.
Modeled after the “Dancing with the Stars” TV show, the event was initially created to raise capital funds for the new Atascadero Library. Today, it benefits six additional non-profits each year as well as two dancers fundraising for ongoing library needs.
Each of the six benefactors chooses a dancer to compete in the March event. Then Malik pairs the dancers with a professional choreographer.
As the crowds have grown, the event has expanded to three nights — also increasing the intensity of the competition, with dancers rehearsing for months before the event.
“A lot of them start in August for the March show,” Malik said.
When she was first invited to participate, in 2011, she began practicing a month before. She finished in second place that year. “It really has changed over the years.”
As soon as this year’s event concluded, she was already working on next year’s – “Atascadero Time Machine: Back to the 80s!”with new artistic director Molly Comin.
This now-rooted Atascadero resident said she’s excited by the community’s ongoing transformation. And, of course, she’s a big part of it.
“Slowly but surely, Atascadero is turning into something extra special,” she said.