Dancing with the Delaware Stars steps up for charities

Christina Lessard, of Lessard Builders, and co-founder of Gals That Give, and Sean Floyd, CNU Fit lead trainer, practice for Dancing with the Delaware Stars. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Amateur hoofers and their experienced partners will once again take the floor at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino’s Rollins Center for one of the biggest fundraisers of the year — Dancing with the Delaware Stars set for Jan. 28.

“This year is the eighth year and I never imagined it would go on this long but as long as people are willing support it, I’m willing to keep putting it on,” said event founder Terri Brown.

Tom Windley, founding partner of Premier PT & Sports Performance, and Kim Gomes, lobbyist with The Byrd Group, at Painted Stave Distilling in Smyrna. (Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran)

“For the past couple years, it’s been a joint fundraiser for Mom’s House and the Boys & Girls Club.”

Mom’s House is a service that provides free child care for single parents attending either high school or college full time and the Boys & Girls Club offers affordable before and after school care for kids from kindergarten through high school.

This year nine pairs are facing off to take home the coveted trophy.

“We have a lot of returning dancers but all the stars are new this year,” Ms. Brown said. “We try to find prominent business people in the community who can use their connections to raise money for the organizations. And fundraising contributes to a third of the dancers’ score for the competition.”

The other two-thirds of the score comes from votes from a panel of judges and votes from the audience.

Mary Johnson, owner of the north Dover Chic-Fil-A said that participating in the event was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

“I was asked to do it and I’m not a dancer. I don’t like being in front of large crowds but I’m trying to step out of my comfort zone and do things I haven’t done before,” she said. “And I see the positive impact the Boys & Girls Club and Mom’s House make every day when I come to work.”

Ms. Johnson estimates that about 50 percent of the families the north Dover Chick-Fil-A serves have utilized the Boys & Girls Club’s services at one point and some of her employees have taken advantage of Mom’s House.

“I’ve had team members who have used both organizations and the services they provide are invaluable,” she said. “Some of my team members wouldn’t have the opportunities they have now without the Boys & Girls Club and Mom’s House. Single parents not only need to go to school, they need to have jobs and without Mom’s House, there’s no way they could do both.”

A third of each team’s score is based on how much money they were able to raise for the event and although many times fundraising can seem like pulling teeth, when the Boys & Girls Club and Mom’s House are the beneficiaries, collecting donations is a little easier, participants say.

“This event is one that I’ve been happy to support for several years now and it’s easier to get people to donate when

Conny Malmberg, attorney and director of Young, Malmberg & Howard, and Michele Xiques, owner of First State Dance Academy (Submitted photo)

they see that you are committed to the cause,” said contestant Conny Malmberg, attorney at Young, Malmberg & Howard.

“It’s a great cause and I work with my family and all of them have been making phone calls and writing letters to a lot of people we do business with and I think we’ve been pretty successful,” said Ms. Johnson’s partner, Bobby MacLeish of Lighthouse Construction.

Last year, the event raised more than $144,000.

In addition to sponsorships, the contestants are encouraging everyone they know to pitch in to buy tables.

Mr. Malmberg’s friends and family alone are taking up two tables.

“I think they’re all most excited to come just so they can laugh at me, he said.

Contestant Kevin Yingling of Delaware Electric Cooperative and his partner, Jessica Moyer, a six-time competitor at

the event have gotten their donors to purchase eight tables.

“As far as tables go, I think we’re doing well but other than that, it’s hard to tell,” Mr. Yingling said. “When it comes to actual dollars, everyone really keeps those numbers secret until the night of the event.”

Although he’s only ever danced in front of friends at the occasional bar outing, Mr. Malmberg is being taught by dance instructor Michele Xiques.

“She’s great and has made this thing I’ve been really nervous about actually a lot of fun,” he said. “We’ve been practicing for a couple months now and I think we’re ready to go, although I’m really looking forward to just getting through the performance. Then I can just enjoy seeing everyone else dance.”

Mr. Yingling also praised his partner, Ms. Moyer who is a personal trainer and teacher Zumba at the Dover YMCA.

“We were friends before this so it’s made it a little less terrible,” he said. “She’s been really patient and even though I’m nervous, I know the whole competition is all in good fun.”

Mr. Yingling admitted he hates dancing and only danced to one song at his wedding.

PARTICIPATING DANCERS
•Scott Brown, managing partner of RF Book & Associates and WMG Advisors, and Autumn Schneider, president of Diane Drulis Dance Foundation
•Jennifer Durham, founder and president of Charitable Dames, and Kyle Sammons, group fitness instructor at YMCA
•Syreeta Adams-Harris, co-owner of Harris Towing and event coordinator at Bayhealth, and Raykeem Ward, founder of Dreams of Hope
•Mary Johnson, owner/operator of Chick-fil-A North Dover, and Bobby MacLeish Jr. of Lighthouse Construction
•Christina Lessard, of Lessard Builders, and co-founder of Gals That Give, and Sean Floyd, CNU Fit lead trainer
•Conny Malmberg, attorney and director of Young, Malmberg & Howard, and Michele Xiques, owner of First State Dance Academy
•Michael O’Connor, vice president of Privatin Consulting, and Stephanie Harrison, administrative and financial manager of 3rd Airlift Squadron
•Tom Windley, founding partner of Premier PT & Sports Performance, and Kim Gomes, lobbyist with The Byrd Group
•Kevin Yingling, energy service manager with Delaware Electric Cooperative, and Jessica Moyer, personal trainer and fitness instructor at YMCA

“Everything he’s learning is new to him and I hope he remembers all these moves and takes his wife out dancing for once,” Ms. Moyer said.

Mr. Yingling said he’s most nervous about dancing in front of the crowd.

“So far, we’ve only had three or four people have watched us at once so it’s going to be a big difference having 1,500 watching,” he said.

“I’ll definitely have more fun watching the other groups because as a guest, watching the dancers is always one of the best parts because a lot of us know one another and it’s fun to see people step away from their normal stiff self even if it is only for two minutes.”

Ms. Johnson and Mr. MacLeish have one major disadvantage — neither one has done any kind of performing before.

“Mary is 6 feet tall and a lot of male dancers aren’t that tall,” Mr. MacLeish said. “They asked my dad first because he’s 6 foot, 4 inches and he wasn’t up to it so they put me up to it and I couldn’t say no even though the only performing I’ve ever done is swim in front of spectators at a swim meet and that was nothing like this.”

The pair is being coached by Barbara Jean McDonald, owner of Barbara’s Dance Academy.

“She choreographed the whole thing and we’ve probably practiced about 10 times now,” Mr. MacLeish said. “Our dance is Latin themed so it’s a lot of quick steps that are constantly changing but I think things have really been coming together the past couple weeks and I find myself practicing the steps when I’m home or even making dinner without thinking about it.”

Although Ms. Johnson is very nervous, she said her partner’s attitude has helped put her at ease.

Michael O’Connor, vice president of Privatin Consulting, and Stephanie Harrison, administrative and financial manager of 3rd Airlift Squadron (Submitted photo)

“He makes me laugh and is so positive and excited. He’s been the perfect dance partner for me,” she said. “I know neither of us are performers but I think we have some costumes that will help us overcome the shortcomings of our dancing abilities.”

Although the details of their dance and costumes are still under wraps, Mr. MacLeish said the audience can expect Ms. Johnson to look stunning and for their dance to be exciting.

“In my experience, the crowd has typically been very generous with the praise and very limited with the criticism so I’m not too worried about the reception we’ll get,” Mr. Malmberg said.

And hopefully one special voter will be extra generous. A four-digit license plate is up for auction and the highest bidder gets an amount of votes equal to the dollar amount of their winning bid.

“It makes things interesting because in a close competition, the auction winner could make the difference depending

Scott Brown, managing partner of RF Book & Associates and WMG Advisors, and Autumn Schneider, president of Diane Drulis Dance Foundation (Submitted photo)

on who they put their votes behind,” Ms. Brown said.

Although this is Ms. Johnson’s first time dancing, she said it won’t be her last.

“Learning to dance, not just for kidding around for fun, but to actually learn how to do it has been on my bucket list, so it’s definitely something I want to continue with,” she said.

Ms. Brown said every year that after the awards are announced and it’s time to go home, it can be difficult to convince guests to leave the dance floor.

Although premium and VIP tickets are sold out, tickets for the main event are still available online at dancingdestars.org for $60 each.

That starts with a 7:30 p.m. reception, hors d’oeuvres, cash bar and 10 votes followed by the dance competition, open dance party and winners announced about 10:30 p.m.

For the first time, an after party will be held elsewhere in Dover Downs from 11 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

Tickets for that event are $25 in advance or $35 at the door.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ashton Brown is a freelance writer living in Dover.

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