WRITTEN BY STEPHANIE L. ROBERTSON
It takes a lot of courage for local Stars to perform at the Stars Dancing for HEALS (Health Establishments at Local Schools) performance.
“The HEALS mission, quite simply, is to provide healthcare to under-served children by providing clinics at their local schools and to make it as easy as possible for them to access healthcare,” explained Earl Reed, HEALS board president and Madison resident.
Stars Dancing for HEALS began 12 years ago to help raise funds for HEALS, Reed said. Based on the popular television series, “Dancing with the Stars,” the local Stars team up with local dance instructors to choreograph and perform a dance routine.
Starting in May, participants commit to raising at least $20,000 for the gala, which takes place every November at the Von Braun Center. The stars have six months to fundraise and perfect their dance routines.
The public can vote for a favorite Star by mail or on the HEALS website. Each dollar raised counts for one vote. The Star who raises the most money receives an exquisite mirror ball trophy and is named the Top Champion for Children. On the night of the gala, the audience will vote on a Crowd Favorite, who will also receive a trophy. Sometimes a dancer/instructor team wins both.
“It’s been a very rewarding experience for me, personally,” said Reed, who has danced in the event. “The mission kind of drew me in to wanting to get more and more involved to help the children.”
Dr. Douglas Downey, a surgeon who serves the Madison and Huntsville community, said HEALS provides
“an opportunity for children within the community to receive medical care who wouldn’t have healthcare accessible due to financial constraints.”
“It’s a wonderful organization in that regard,” Downey added. “I’ve been to the event a few times with Dr. Waples, and he was the one who suggested that I participate in it.”
Ginger Harper, a board member and previous Dancing for HEALS Star, recruited Kevin Fernandez, a local business man who has several clients in Madison. “I was extremely nervous about it – not for the fundraising part, because I know it’s a great cause, but for the dancing in front of so many people,” Fernandez said. “That’s not something I’ve ever done.”
Nonetheless, Fernandez agreed to participate. “I attended an event last year,” he said. “I saw how much fun it was, but more importantly I saw how powerful the event was. They raised almost $400,000 last year through this event, and HEALS is such a great cause. I’ve seen the kids that they help. Without HEALS, these kids would not be able to get their basic healthcare needs met.”
Connie Carnes and Ginger Harper recruited Madisonian David Bier. Bier admitted he didn’t know how to dance, and the idea of dancing in front of a group of 400 people was daunting. He said he couldn’t imagine raising $15,000, and he didn’t consider himself a local Star, but Carnes and Harper convinced him otherwise.
“I was super-nervous,” said Bier, who decided to take the challenge. “It was probably one of the best decisions I made. I mean, it was just this defining moment in my career, professional life and community involvement that just really turned the corner of me being here in the community versus being actually engaged in the community. It was just an incredible experience, and I’ve met so many great people.”
Another participant, Kristina Barbee, is mother of three children in the Madison City Schools system. Barbee grew up dancing and was asked to participate by her good friend Lynn Proy – a long-time supporter of HEALS.
“It was a very easy yes,” said Barbee. She said she was driven to help the children served by HEALS, knowing many of them will be community leaders one day. “I can’t think of a better way to prepare them – and give back to Huntsville/Madison community – than to invest in their health at this young age,” Barbee said.
Traci Romine, owner of Madison Ballroom Dance Studio and HEALS instructor, explained the process for working with her Star. First, she discovers the Star’s favorite dance style and music genre. Romine said even experienced dancers can be nervous when dancing in front of a large crowd, so designing a routine around their preferred music and dance style can help ease the nerves. “I want my students to feel comfortable with what they’re doing and have fun,” she added.
Romine has won a couple of trophies with previous partners, Lynn Collyar and David Bier. “It is an amazing outreach,” she said of HEALS. “Happy, healthy kids will grow into happier, healthier adults.”