As food banks face dwindling supplies after the holidays, Dancing with the Local Stars aims to fill gap and tackle hunger
As thousands of people face hunger in Muskegon County—about 25,000 to be specific—the largest-ever cast of “Dancing with the Local Stars” is determined to curb that number and ensure more of our neighbors know where their next meal is coming from.
The 12th annual Dancing with the Local Stars, which features 42 “community stars” and 11 professional dancers, is organized by the Women’s Division Chamber of Commerce (WDCC)—and, each year, the three-day dance competition raises money for food pantries and food programs throughout Muskegon, lower Oceana, and upper Ottawa counties. Organizations operating the pantries and programs are annually able to apply for financial support from the competition.
The event will consist of four identical performances, which will be held Feb. 27 through Feb. 29 at the Delta Hotels by Marriott in downtown Muskegon. Event tickets for the general public will go on sale Jan. 2.
“Right now, people are giving for the holidays, but come February, March, April, those food pantries get depleted very quickly,” Dancing with the Local Stars Co-Chairwoman Mary Kendall said. “That’s a good time for us to come in and restock these shelves.”
About 25,190 people are food insecure in Muskegon, according to Feeding America, a national hunger relief organization. That means close to 15 percent of the county is grappling with hunger.
To date, the Dancing with the Local Stars event has sent a little over $1 million to the area food pantries and programs. Last year, the dance extravaganza raised $135,101, which marked the event raising a total of $1,058,000 since its inception.
This year’s movie-themed dance extravaganza features its largest-ever cast, with the 42 “community stars” coming from local nonprofits, schools, businesses, and more.
“This is our 12th year, and we’re still going strong,” said Kendall, who spearheaded the first Dancing with the Local Stars and has helped to oversee it ever since. “I’m feeling really proud of what this has brought to Muskegon.”
“People will ask me, ‘Are you ever going to run out of stars?’” Kendall continued. “And I say, ‘Heck no. This community is filled with stars. We have teachers and lawyers and heads of nonprofits and business owners. These are all stars.’”
Each year, the event—a whirlwind of professional-level dancing, intricate costumes, music, and food—has grown both financially and in terms of audience numbers. Now, a little more than 400 people are attending each show, and it’s almost impossible for them to get larger because of space constraints. This, of course, is a good problem to have, Kendall said, but she and the other WDCC members are looking forward to next year, when they’ll be able to hold the competition at the incoming convention center.
“I’m excited we continue to grow,” Kendall said. “We’re already more than half sold out for all three nights, and the tickets haven’t even gone on sale to the public yet.”
“Next year, with the convention center, that won’t be a problem,” she continued. “We’re going from 5,000 square feet to 17,000 square feet.”
For months, the professional dancers and stars practice for the event, often hitting the dance floor as frequently as several times a week.
Erin Blais, the owner and operator of the Lakeshore Academy of the Arts/Blais Dance Academy in Spring Lake, said she’s thrilled to be participating as a professional dancer for the second time.
“People are going outside of their comfort zone for a worthy cause,” Blais said. “It’s pretty powerful. And, it’s also a lot of fun. I’m excited.”
Once a professional dancer in Los Angeles, Blais in 1996 opened her own dance studio after returning to West Michigan to raise her family. Since then, she has seen the creative landscape grow, particularly when it comes to dancing—something which this event helps to highlight with its repertoire of professional dancers.
“There’s a bigger draw for dancers who can also sing, act or tumble,” Blais said. “I see there’s an expansion [of dancing] going on—and a lot more interest. Television shows like ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ definitely influence that. My students have zero interest in becoming professionals, but they love the camaraderie, discipline and confidence it gives you.”
Dancing with the Local Stars Co-Chairwoman Marilyn Forton emphasized the dedication of the cast each year.
“It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to put on an event like this, and these teams are ready to put the time in to, once again, help us feed the hungry in our communities,” Forton said. “That is what truly makes them stars.”
This year’s community stars are:
- Trisha Allen, Pharmacist at Mercy Health Pharmacy
- Dr. Tabatha Barber, DO, FACOOG, NCMP, Functional Medicine for Women at PrivaMD Physicians
- Kim Bassett, Lead Meeting Planner at Amway Corporation
- Christy Belanger, Fifth Grade Teacher at Ross Park Elementary School
- Erin Blais, Owner & Operator of Lakeshore Academy of the Arts/Blais Dance Academy
- Lisa Bluhm, Women’s Christian Health & Life Breakthrough Coach & Fitness Instructor
- Jill Bonthuis, Executive Director of Pioneer Resources
- Billie Carey, Registered Nurse at Mercy Health and Zumba Fitness Instructor
- Lindsey Cousineau, Regional Director at CarNow
- Kristi Eigenauer, Third Grade Teacher at Ross Park Elementary School
- Kelly Ellis, Fifth Grade Teacher at Ross Park Elementary School
- Kari Fuller, Director of the Coopersville Area Community Foundation
- Matt Gongalski, Co-Owner of Rad Dads’ Taco & Tequila Bar
- Kim Gaver, Young Fives Teacher at Ross Park Elementary School
- Staci Geiger, Financial Advisor at Raymond James & Associates, Downtown Muskegon
- Meghan Heritage, Owner of BlueWest Properties
- Nicole Jimenez-Smith, Cardo Vascular Technician, Mercy Health; Fire Fighter, Muskegon Charter Township
- Nate Johnson, Reentry & Outreach Director for Fresh Coast Alliance
- Addy Kinziger, Registered Dietitian; Pastry Chef; College Instructor; Owner, NOVA Super.Natural.Bakery.LLCPastry
- Erin Kuhn, Executive Director of West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission
- Tom Langton, PA, Physician’s Assistant at Spectrum Health Geriatrics in Byron Center
- Dave Lehner, Branch Co-Manager & Loan Officer at Michigan Mortgage
- Courtney Leibrandt, Owner of Vintage Redefined
- Angie Linderman, Registered Nurse & Case Manager at Review Works
- Kendra Martin-Terrell, Agent, Durga Insurance Group, Farm Bureau Insurance
- Brian McKeown, Owner & Operator of The UPS Store
- Jill McMahon, Fourth Grade Teacher at Ross Park Elementary School
- Jim Mines, Owner and Agent at Anchor Group Insurance
- Heidi Naperala, Founder & CEO of PrivaMD
- Ogema Larry Romanelli, Ogema of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians
- Jonathan Seyferth, Coopersville City Manager
- Dawn Shank, Medical Social Work at Hospice of Michigan
- Nancy Susterich, Second Grade Teacher from Ross Park Elementary
- Melanie Swiftney, Director of Marketing & Communications for the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation & Author
- Tammy Sylvester, Fifth Grade Teacher from Ross Park Elementary
- Dr. Andrew Szatkowski, DC, Chiropractor at Fruitport Chiropractic
- Bob Szymoniak, Superintendent of Fruitport Community Schools
- Mark Taylor, President of Taylor Office Furniture
- Lisa Tyler, Communications Director at Senior Resources
- Mickey Wallace, Executive Director of Kemetic Kings Mentoring
- Patti Winsemius, Dance Instructor at Cassell Training Center
- Sue Young, Retired Third Grade Teacher/Substitute at Ross Park Elementary
This year’s dance professionals are:
- Matt Bradfield, Senior Test Engineer at Hilite International, 1-year participant
- Francine Calandro, Fitness Specialist & Personal Trainer at AgeWell Services at Tanglewood Park, 12-year participant
- Lisa Jirikovic, Physical Therapist, 12-year participant
- Patrick Johnson, PT Arts, LLC Consulting Co-Owner & West Michigan Flight Academy President & CEO & Retired Dance Faculty Instructor Grand Rapids Community College, 12-year participant
- Chris Kuhn, Co-Owner & President of Seal-Tec, 2-year participant
- Scott Mehlberg, Applications Engineer at Burke E. Porter Machine Company, 1-year participant
- Sandy Nolan, Owner & Independent Contractor of Sandy Nolan Kitchen & Bath Design, 2-year participant
- Hon. Brenda E. Sprader, Muskegon County Probate Judge & Professional Dancer & Instructor, 12-year participant
- Carly Switzer, Diagnostic Medical Sonographer at Spectrum Health Butterworth & Blodgett Hospitals, 7-year participant
- Mary Switzer, THE GYM Owner & Trainer, 11-year participant
- Andrea VanBeek, RN Case Manager/Preceptor at Mary Free Bed at Home, 5-year participant
Dancing with the Local Stars will be held the evening of Feb. 27, Feb. 28 and Feb. 29; there will also be a matinee performance on Feb. 29. Evening performance tickets cost $45, and matinee tickets are $35. Tickets will be available for purchase beginning Jan. 2 by calling 231-798-4244. For further details, visit womensdivision.org.
Story and photos by Anna Gustafson. Connect with Anna by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.