MUSKEGON, MI – The crowd ended up on its feet dancing, thousands of dollars were collected for food pantries – and few people seemed to enjoy themselves more than the performers doing the actual work.
Dancing with the Local Stars – an annual Muskegon fundraiser for food pantries themed after the television series — took a bow Saturday as it finished up its three-day run this season at the Muskegon Harbor Holiday Inn.
Like the TV show of the similar name, each dance couple features a local “star” and a trained dancer. Three awards are given at each performance: A judge’s award, an award for the couple who collects the most money in a bag and a popular vote award.
At the Saturday matinee performance, the surprise winner of the judge’s award went to the J.J. Westgate and his able partner, Mona Shores High School student Carly Switzer.
Westgate, it came out, hadn’t danced at all before dance practice started a few months ago.
The in-house lawyer for WESCO Inc. was doing a tap-dance solo on a platform by Saturday afternoon.
“We just started with the basic steps, and then I put them into combos,” Switzer said. Switzer said it’s her second year dancing as a pro in the fundraiser.
Other memorable moments from performances this season:
- Dance acrobatics gone awry led dance pro Rodney Sprader to nearly drop his local star – none other than circuit court judge Annette Smedley – at the Saturday matinee performance. Multiple jokes at Sprader’s expense were enjoyed by all.
- Emcee Tracy Lorenz claimed that the hotel’s fire alarm had gone off Friday night immediately after a disco dance by local star Tresha Kidder and dance pro Dave Kennedy. Their tune was none other than the Trammp’s Disco Inferno. Kennedy was once crowned the 1978 “Disco Champion of West Michigan,” according to the event’s program.
- Fruitport native Sam Cerniglia, the former contestant on “The Voice” TV show made an appearance, singing “Feelin’ Good” – his own variation of a Michael Buble hit.
- Brenda Sprader and Eric Ringelberg danced an exceptionally smooth soft-shoe to the Hollywood classic Singin’ in the Rain. “It was hard for me to tell who was the star in that one, which is great,” said dancing judge Jen McNeice.
This year’s goal was to match last year’s fundraising goal of $97,000. The event raised more than $40,000 in sponsorship money coming into the event and sold out all four performances — 1,600 total tickets. Event spokeswoman Cheryl Deford said it would finish closing the books and cut checks to non-profit food pantries sometime in April.
The glamorous fundraiser is becoming a Muskegon institution, with six seasons complete and planning for a seventh already underway. The event, hosted by members of the Women’s Division Chamber of Commerce has raised a total of $311,000 over the years for area food pantries.
The effort was an all-volunteer effort. Even Cerniglia – who regularly gets paid to sing these days – donated his effort, Deford said.
Local stars and dance pros like John Maxon of Holland’s Reflections Dance studio work together in odd hours to put together a performance.
“It’s evenings, it’s lunches, it’s weekends – whenever we can grab the time.”