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Gail Gray is not a fan of the spotlight. She would rather be dining with a friend, attending a play, watching “SNL” or “Scandal” — pretty much anything other than putting on a costume and stage makeup and performing for an audience of hundreds. So how did this introverted director of Human Resources Policy for UW School of Medicine end up agreeing to dance the salsa on stage for 500 people?

“It was cocktail talk!” she says.

On March 10, Gray is dancing as part of a fundraising event where nine “celebrity dancers” (read: local citizens with little-to-no dance training but an abiding commitment to the cause of combatting homelessness­ and a willingness to endure stage fright) are each paired with a professional dancer to perform an original piece to raise money for supportive, permanent housing for homeless people.

Gray has an impressive athletic background. She ran track in high school and college, coached track and field at the Air Force Academy, and tried out for the Olympics, but she is not trained as a dancer.

“I mean, I did take salsa lessons a decade ago,” she clarifies. “I remembered the basic steps, but that’s it. I didn’t remember how to turn, anything. I’m starting from scratch.” She laughs good-naturedly at herself. “I am very coachable.”

Very coachable and not one to shy away from a challenge. In high school she applied to the Air Force Academy sight unseen because it was hard to get into. Though her dad was enlisted, Gray didn’t know exactly what she was signing on for. “I really didn’t know what I was getting into in terms of basic training and all that. I wasn’t prepared for all the yelling. But it’s an experience that I’m proud of — that I made it through.”

Did she know what she was signing on for with this dance competition? “No!” she laughs again. “I kind of just wanted to challenge myself, and it seemed like a fun thing to do even though I’m constantly wondering, How am I going to get on stage in front of all these people and dance?”

Three times a week Gray practices salsa with her assigned professional dance instructor, plus daily practice at home. “It’s one thing to learn salsa, but also the choreography? It’s super fun and super hard.”

Though it may have been the cocktails talking when Gray originally agreed to participate, her dedication to “one of the most complex and challenging problems Seattle faces” carries her through.

“The amount of wealth in this city, and to have this number of people living on the street — it’s hard to reconcile.” Gray and her family have spent several nights in a church basement shelter “because someone needs to be there,” and she will get up on stage and dance the salsa in front of hundreds of people in this festive benefit for Plymouth Housing Group because someone has to do that too.

And what better way to draw attention to the discomforts of our city’s homelessness crisis than by doing something that takes you out of your own comfort zone?

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