TUPELO • Even with fewer overall dancers and a switch to a virtual event, Dance Like the Stars raised over $259,000 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of North Mississippi.
“(Dancers) were concerned about the fundraising side of it with the pandemic, but it just shows that people in the community care. We’re so honored that it’s apparent they care about the work that’s done at the Boys & Girls Club,” said Boys & Girls Clubs of North Mississippi CEO Zell Long. “It’s just a humbling experience for us and we’re so grateful (and) giving God the praise.”
This year’s event, held Aug. 22 at BancorpSouth Arena, raised $259,568 in total and amassed approximately 5,000 views between the live showing and a video of the event. Approximately $7,000 was raised from the silent auction. Celebrity dancers included Kimberly Langley of New Albany, Eddie Restor of Oxford, Lisa Settlemires of Ripley, and four dancers from Tupelo: Lindsey Chaney, Kerri McMillin, Gabe Rulewicz and Jacuana Sykes.
Each celebrity was paired with a dance professional at The Dance Studio of Tupelo, owned by Rubye Del Harden, to learn and perform a ballroom dance routine. Professional instructors included Tammy Wilson, Benjamin Pryor, Andrew Davis and Gemi Moore.
Settlemires was this year’s Grand Champion, the dancer who raised the most money. She raised $54,608. First place runner up Chaney raised $54,265. Second place runner up Rester raised $46,638 and was also third place Judges Choice. First place Judges Choice was McMillin, who was chosen as People’s Choice alongside Langley, with Jacuana Sykes second place Judges Choice. Fundraising has continued since the close of the event.
The 15th annual Dance Like the Stars faced challenges previous years had not. While the event typically hosts 10 or more dancers, this year only had seven dancers, who had to start fundraising in June rather than May, as was done in previous years.
“They started a month later but they exceeded the goal and raised more than previous teams. This was the second highest amount in all of the 15 years raised, Long said.
Evie Storey, director of Marketing and Special Events for the Boys & Girls Clubs of North Mississippi, said they decided to have fewer dancers since they had to limit the number of people at the arena. Despite this, dancers raised an amount comparable to a full lineup, with over six raising over $20,000. Long is thankful dancers gave their time during the pandemic to practice and fundraise.
The event also had fewer volunteers, who had to work in smaller groups and longer shifts to prepare. Because of COVID-19 concerns, the event went from originally being planned for in person to a virtual event where audience members watched online. Since the event already had a videographer, lighting and sound in place, Evie Storey, director of Marketing and Special Events for the Boys & Girls Clubs of North Mississippi, said the only thing left to figure out was how to broadcast online.
“Fundraising-wise, it was definitely successful ... and one of the best shows we ever had,” Storey said. ““Our sponsors and everyone continued to give, continued to make donations so that was really great, that even with our decision to go virtual, people continued to be supportive.”
The event reached a greater audience of people, including partners from throughout the country, and was aided by shoutouts from former NFL quarterback Eli Manning, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, San Francisco Giants bullpen catcher Eli Whiteside, Dr. Carla Standford and national Boys & Girls Club president and CEO Jim Clark. The event itself featured an introduction from MSU head coach Mike Leach and BCG of North Mississippi board chairman John Nance.
The event had over 150 celebrity volunteers since starting, Storey said. She encourages anyone interested in being a future celebrity dancer to reach out to her.
“We’re definitely looking to keep this going for many years moving forward,” Storey said. “Some of our greatest volunteers and partnerships have come out of this dance event, so that’s just invaluable for us because that has so many long term effects and impacts on our club.”
The event also featured a performance from the Boys & Girls Club Ballroom Dance Team, a youth group that studied ballroom at The Dance Studio through a grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission and the National Endowment For The Arts. A virtual reunion opening ceremony was presented with previous celebrity dancers. Celebrity hosts were Allie Martin, Katrina Berry-Hooper and Greg Pirkle. The arena was decorated by Designs by Tracy Proctor and local volunteers.
The fundraiser will help support the Boys & Girls Clubs summer programs and buying extra safety supplies due to COVID-19. The next big event will be a virtual Cooking Like the Stars in November.
It is the mission of Boys & Girls Clubs of North Mississippi to inspire and enable all young people to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens. Serving North Mississippi since 1996, the organization reaches more than 2,000 youth annually through clubhouse locations in Tupelo, Oxford, Ripley and New Albany. For more information on Boys and Girls Clubs of North Mississippi, please call 662-841-6504, or visit www.bgcnms.org.