TUPELO • Rubye Del Harden and Charlise Latour will never forget the first Dancing With The King.

The dance competition, which took place in the Tupelo Middle School gymnasium, managed to get off on the wrong foot.

“The first year, we didn’t have food,” said Latour. Harden confirmed those first-year struggles. “There was no air-conditioning, no food,” she said.

Dancing With The King quickly regained its step and has been on the move ever since.

“There were so many things we learned that year,” said Latour, who serves as an organizer with Harden. “We have improved since then.”

In seven years, the event has evolved into Dancing & Singing With The King – a three-day celebration filled with dance and vocal talent competitions, workshops, exhibitions and contests for various ages. And it has expanded from one host site to three within the city.

This year’s Dancing & Singing With The King is set for April 3-5 at the Tupelo Furniture Market. Other event activities are planned for the Tupelo Ballroom Dance Club and Milam Elementary School.

“I’m really stoked about it,” Harden said. “It’s super.”

The purpose of the event is to promote the legacy of Elvis Presley in his birth city and to raise money for dance and vocal education scholarships. Dancing & Singing With The King is presented by the Tupelo Elvis Fan Club and is a special project of the CREATE Foundation.

Dancing

The three days of fun begin Friday, April 3, with the 6:30 p.m. sock hop dance party and dinner in the Furniture Market.

Harden said the sock hop will be similar to a radio music program. Everyone attending is encouraged to dress in their favorite ‘50s outfit.

“Wear your poodle skirt, pink jackets and roll-up blue jeans,” she said. “It’s almost like you’re listening to the radio in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The sponsors will be recognized in radio commercials.”

The evening also features dance competitions for professionals, children and audience members in costume.

Saturday’s schedule begins at 9 a.m. at the Ballroom Dance Studio with workshops led by professional dance instructors Ron Montez and Jim and Jenell Maranto. The trio will also judge a show dance competition starting at 1:15 p.m.

At 6 p.m., everyone gathers at the Furniture Market for the Saturday night gala and dinner. Winners of the afternoon show dance competition will be invited to perform during the Judges’ Choice Showcase.

There will be a dance exhibition by the Plantersville Middle School dance club, which has been receiving training from Ballroom Dance Club teachers. Jack Curtis, Tupelo’s Elvis tribute artist, will perform two sets.

The dancing continues with a celebrity competition. The celebrities who will be dancing to Elvis tunes are Lisa Martin, Rachel Ethridge, Mindy Prewitt, Lauren McElwain, Sarah Barrett, Lindsay Brett, Allie Martin, Ben McAlily, Scotty Thompson and Bruce Milner.

Sunday’s schedule features the professional ballroom competition, starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Furniture Market.

Harden said dancers are coming from across the country and even overseas to compete.

“We have some dancers coming from Australia,” she said. “Two dancers are coming from Iowa. And we have a big crowd of dancers who come from North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.”

The Plantersville students will again take part in the dance program Sunday.

Thanks to sponsor contributions, dancers age 25 and younger can receive scholarships to attend the weekend activities. A registration form is available on the Dancing & Singing With The King website.

Harden said Dancing & Singing With The King is exposing young people to different forms of dance and music as well as Tupelo’s native son.

“We’re giving these young people an opportunity to do everything – from show dance routines, seeing professionals dance, and hearing a lot of Elvis music,” she said. “We’re working to get younger people to appreciate his legacy and into being in a ballroom competition themselves.”

Singing

Singing With The King is a youth singing contest open for high school seniors and younger. The competition will take place Saturday, April 4, at Milam Elementary School.

The students who met the Jan. 31 deadline requirements will be reviewed by a team of music professionals from the University of Mobile. Twenty finalists will be chosen to compete for scholarships that Saturday afternoon.

The winners of each age category will be invited back to sing at the Saturday night gala at the Furniture Market.

In addition to the competition, all applicants are invited to attend three talent and career development workshops Saturday morning.

“They may not be picked to compete, but if they are interested in singing they get a scholarship to come for the day,” Latour said.

Leading the workshops are Demi VanderWerff on “Develop and Care for Your Voice,” Tricia Walker on “Understanding the Music Business” and Lauren Carlton on “How to Create Stage Presence.” The three women also serve as judges for the afternoon singing contest.

“That morning is all about helping them develop the talent they have,” Latour said. “If your goal as a kid is to become a musician who actually makes a living that way, what does that mean and what does it look like? We want them to have the facts so they can decide if that’s the direction they really want to take.”

Harden said Singing With The King also encourages students to enter the Tupelo Elvis Fan Club scholarship contest, which is open to Mississippi high school seniors. The fan club awards $10,000 in scholarships, with half of it going to the winner.

Entry deadline for the fan club scholarship competition is Feb. 14. Ten finalists are selected to perform for the scholarships during a live finale March 28 at the Elvis birthplace museum.

Extras

If a person attends Dancing & Singing but doesn’t want to do the Saturday workshops, there’s sightseeing. Elvis historian Roy Turner will lead a tour of local sites that were a part of Elvis’ young life in Tupelo.

“Roy will tell all the backstories of Elvis’ experiences while he was growing up,” Latour said. “It gives you a picture of Elvis that you don’t see when you see the glitz and the glamour.”

Harden said Dancing & Singing With The King has received enormous support from sponsors, whose contributions pay for scholarships for students to attend the workshops and competitions. A total of 84 dance and 25 singing scholarships are available. Volunteers from the Tupelo Elvis Fan Club, the local dance community, and friends from across the country also provide manpower assistance with the activities related to the weekend.

Harden and Latour have seen Dancing & Singing With The King grow from its humble start. Last year’s event drew 350 people to the Friday night sock hop and 405 for the Saturday night gala. There were 127 dance competitors and 25 singers.

“We have come a long way,” Latour said.

bobby.pepper@journalinc.com

TWITTER: @bobbypepper30

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