TUPELO • Rashni Barath feels more at home running a foot race than gliding across a ballroom dance floor.

Yet with every practice session leading up her Dance Like The Stars appearance Saturday night, the Tupelo resident grows more comfortable doing the cha-cha and other styles of dance in preparation for her moment in the spotlight.

“I’m a runner. Running and dancing don’t go together,” she said. “So, this was a challenge for me, having the correct posture and all that good stuff. The muscles you use to dance are totally different, but it’s actually a fantastic workout.”

Barath is one of 10 local celebrities who will put on their dancing shoes at BancorpSouth Arena for Dance Like the Stars. The annual event is the main fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Clubs of North Mississippi.

The celebrities have spent the summer raising money and learning their routines with the help of their dance partners from The Dance Studio in Tupelo.

“They devote a lot of time and a lot of energy for it,” Tammy Wilson, The Dance Studio’s manager and senior instructor, said of the celebrities. “For some of them, it’s outside their comfort zone, but they all are willing to do it.”

Barath, who’s paired with Benjamin Pryor, will perform a cultural fusion dance honoring her heritage. She was born in South Africa of Indian descent. She moved to the United States, lived in Tupelo for a few years, moved to Toronto, then returned to Tupelo.

“I want the audience to see something different. There are several styles in this, cha-cha, tango - a blend of dances,” she said. “I wanted to have a little bit of my culture and incorporate traditional ballroom dancing. I thought it would fun to mix it all together.”

Wilson said the celebrity dancers began preparing for Saturday’s event in May, squeezing in a practice session or two every week. They used social media and hosted events to raise money.

The Boys & Girls Clubs’ clubhouses provide a positive environment and educational opportunities for children in Tupelo, New Albany, Oxford and Ripley.

Tyler Camp, one of the male celebrities, said he felt anxious when he began learning his dance routine. Now, he dances with ease while rehearsing with partner Gemi Moore.

“Typically, I’m one who’s poised all the time, not putting myself at risk. But here we are four months later,” said Camp, who’s the special assistant to the president of Itawamba Community College. “Coming into it, I didn’t realize how much effort it took to put on the whole thing. It’s time consuming. But at the end of the day, when you’re reminded of why you’re doing this for, it makes it all worth it.”

Sylvia Blanchard, a family practitioner and owner of Family Care Medical Clinic in Tupelo, sees reminders of why she’s participating.

“Working at my clinic, I see a lot of kids who go to the Boys & Girls Clubs. They’re like my babies,” Blanchard said. “I love them so much, and I want to give back to them.”

bobby.pepper@journalinc.com; TWiTTER: @bobbypepper30

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