Moments before announcing Kevin Chandler, who represented a local construction firm, and his USA Dance partner Caroline Clymer as 2022 champions, Dancing with the Stars of the ‘Burg emcee and WHSV-TV anchor Kyle Rogers revealed the total raised by the annual fundraiser.
The year’s total — $188,361 — set a new record for the event. And when the ballroom’s three large video screens displayed the 12-year grand total of more than $1.2 million, the sellout crowd erupted into applause.
The Dancing with the Stars of the ‘Burg fundraiser began in November 2010 and quickly became the hottest ticket in Harrisonburg, Virginia, selling out for all 12 shows. The 400 seats available for the 2022 production sold out nearly a month before the show. Fans were attracted by the Hollywood-like production quality that transported them into a world of glitz and glamour not often found in the Shenandoah Valley. And the cause — providing a ‘forever home’ for the Harrisonburg Rockingham Child Day Care Center — was an easy one to support. With the 2022 show complete, that goal has been achieved.
Each year, the event paired seven local Stars with experienced social dancers from USA Dance’s Shenandoah Valley Chapter #6022. After a public reveal of the Stars and partners in mid-summer, the teams spent approximately 15 weeks learning a dance routine and raising dollar votes. Then at the November show each year, the teams competed for several awards, including the grand championship which went to the team with the best combined fundraising and dance routine. All told, 84 local celebrities represented their businesses, schools, and organizations, during the 12 years of the event. Thirty-one different USA Dance members served as partners, and a dozen or so additional members contributed to the production itself.
“In 2010, when we were first approached by the day care, we thought this would be a great way to create more interest in and awareness of ballroom dancing,” said USA Dance Member David Taylor, who co-produced the show with his wife Connie. In addition to their service on the chapter board, the two were the chapter’s only DanceSport couple, and they immediately saw a chance to bring what they’d seen at USA Dance competitions to the local event. Connie developed relationships with several dance apparel companies and, supplemented by her own creativity and needlework skills, provided competition-style costuming for the teams. David brought event and production experience from his career as marketing director at James Madison University.
Both Taylors were quick to point out that the event differs from other DWTS-style events held in other locales. “Our USA Dance chapter is pretty small,’ Connie said. “And perhaps most importantly, there’s only been one ballroom dance professional who has operated in this area consistently throughout the run of the show.”
That one professional, Karen Thomas of the Dancing With Karen studio, became the most irreplaceable partner in the event. “Her generosity with her time to instruct the teams and choreograph the routines, as well as her willingness to allow the use of her studio for teams to practice, was simply amazing!” David said. “I don’t think there could have been a Dancing with the Stars of the ‘Burg without Karen Thomas.”
Chandler and Clymer’s Cha Cha finished tied for first place with 29 of a possible 30 points from three judges. Joining them at the top were Chelsea Church of WHSV-TV (with USA Dance partner Nick Gardner) and personal trainer Robin Crespo (with USA Dance’s Kevin Castle). After a judges’ conference, Church and Gardner’s energetic Lindy Hop was selected for the Judges Award. Lacey Spring Elementary School Principal Tammy May (paired with Adriel Byrd of USA Dance) won the People’s Choice award by raising the most money the night of the show, but Chandler’s combination of dance scores and full-season fundraising was enough to win the championship.
The event also featured local bank officer Mary Pavlovskaya, paired with Don Barstow of USA Dance; Doctor Arlene McCain with USA Dance’s Greg Riddle; and Dentist Isaac Goode, paired with Denise Dean Shifflett of USA Dance. All seven teams raised more than $14,000 each and performed spectacular routines. “The best show we’ve ever had!” David said.
“One of the unexpected, beautiful outcomes of this event has been the personal friendships that have come from this show,” said Diane McCarthy, Harrisonburg Rockingham Child Day Care Center’s Director of Development and the person who initiated the idea for Dancing with the Stars of the ‘Burg. “More than 100 people have been on that dance floor and shared a common experience that will unite them forever.”
Several past Stars have since joined USA Dance and the local dance community after appearing in the show. After competing originally as Stars, three — including Shifflett, a pharmaceutical sales rep; nurse Libbi Fitzgerald; and Montevideo Middle School Principal Jackie Baker — returned to the floor as USA Dance partners in later shows. Fitzgerald danced six times as a USA Dance partner after winning the 2012 championship and became the social media director when she wasn’t on the floor. “It’s really been a life-changing experience,” she said.
For all involved, trips through downtown Harrisonburg will evoke a tremendous sense of pride.
Just one block off Harrisonburg’s Court Square, a building bearing the bright, colorful emblem of the Harrisonburg Rockingham Child Day Care Center, will soon house a safe, secure, and loving daytime home for infants to preschoolers from all socio-economic backgrounds. For the first time since its founding in 1971, the center will own its own facility, and services that have proven essential to the community can be sustained and expanded.
“My three kids attended back when we didn’t have two nickels. … we could afford the day care because of the sliding scale,” said Chaz Haywood, a Star in the 2015 show and Clerk of the Court for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. “Now as a father and grandfather, I get to make sure this continues for those that are struggling and just trying to get by.”
“As we heard the stories of families that had been helped by the day care, and as we witnessed the work of the teachers and administrators, we realized that we had a chance to make a difference in our community’s future,” David Taylor said. For that reason, and now that the building has been secured, he and Connie joined Harrisonburg Rockingham Child Day Care Center Board President Martha Ross and her husband Jerry Benson, as well as 2011 Stars Andy Huggins and Jill McGlaughlin to announce the formation of a permanent, unrestricted endowment for the Harrisonburg Rockingham Child Day Care Center at the Community Foundation of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. The group along with some anonymous friends have contributed the first $100,000 toward a goal of $1 million for the endowment.
While November’s show will be the last of its type for Dancing with the Stars of the ‘Burg, David promises that there are more events in the future that will support the endowment. “They won’t be quite like what we’ve done for the past 12 years,” he said, noting the nearly 80 people required to run the 2022 show. “It’s been a miracle and a blessing that we’ve been able to sustain that show for that long. But we have seen how our passion for dance can make a huge difference for our community, and we have this large group of people who love the day care and Dancing with the Stars of the ‘Burg. We will find ways to channel that into more opportunities to dance, have a great time, and support the children and young families of our community.”