Not even a pandemic can stop that dancing feeling – or an event that brings together hundreds of people to support life-changing mentoring.
And how is that possible when groups are limited and going virtual has become the new standard?
Dancing with the Stars of Mentoring, which had been planned for April at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, is going outside under the stars on Sunday, Nov. 8, starting at 5:30 p.m. Last week, couples that had been rehearsing for the April event returned to the dance floor – this time wearing masks and accompanied by a newcomer, yet no stranger.
Jo-Ann Schofield, Mentor RI’s president and CEO, is joining the ranks of dancers for an event that she is hopeful of drawing more than 400 spectators. When held at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, Dancing With the Stars of Mentoring has attracted more than 500 people, and last year it raised $126,000 for the program that pairs members of the community with at-risk students. In addition to serving as a resource for mentor programs statewide, Mentor RI runs programs in Warwick, Cranston, Woonsocket, Newport, Pawtucket and one school in Providence.
But how is this going to work with restrictions on the size of groups? And how can people be dancing?
Schofield has come up with a mix of the virtual events nonprofits have turned to as fundraisers and the pre-COVID, in-person events that are a staple for so many organizations.
Borrowing a page out of the Hendricken High School graduation held on the grounds of the Aldrich Mansion on Warwick Neck, Schofield arranged for APAD to set up giant inflatable screens at the edge of the water. Those attending will stay in their cars and be given cooler packs with gourmet treats as they arrive. They will be treated to both a live and recorded show. Co-hosts for the “Dancing under the Stars,” NBC 10’s Mario Hilario and Heather Gerstein from Lite Rock 105, will greet the audience and introduce the dancers and judges. Routines of the dancers will have been previously videotaped, with no second chances, at the Dancing Feeling studio.
With both celebrities – who volunteered to dance and had raised funds to participate – and the staff at Dancing Feeling having put so much into the April event, only to have the plug pulled, Schofield wanted to do something for them. Then, with sponsorships and ticket sales the event having raised close to $90,000, she wanted to deliver something.
“Sometimes desperate people do desperate things,” said Schofield, “but truly our kids need us now more than ever. Providing youth with a connection to the outside world is critical, and even as we recover from the pandemic; with the economic devastation, learning loss, and trauma it caused, the need for mentors and mentoring is only going to increase.”
Dancing Feeling instructor Noah Carsten said it was only a matter of minutes before he and Bianca Matarese of Textron were back into the sing of their routine, a combination of jive, cha cha and rumba that he said has a “fall theme.” Dancers like to keep elements of their routines a secret, as proven highly effective at the first Dancing With The Stars 14 years ago when the late Peter Koch, dressed as a matador, switched roles with his partner, Tanya Salvadore, and charged across the floor like a bull. He ended up flat on the floor with a red cape tossed above him.
Neither Bianca nor Noah revealed too much more, although they agreed they picked up right from where they left off, “like riding a bicycle.”
Matt Raiche, who works for Washington Trust and is a mentor, willingly revealed his “secret weapon” to wow the audience and the judges – his 7-year-old daughter Harper.
Matt confessed he’s more comfortable on a golf course than a dance floor, but having seen up front the benefits of mentoring and the impact of the program he is doing what he can.
“The kids need our help,” he said.
Rachael Mooney of Dancing Feeling is Matt’s partner.
Harper who loves dancing and is capable of some moves not yet seen on the mentor dance floor – try cart wheeling – joins Raiche and Rachael in the closing moments of their routine. Harper has no doubts there will be plenty of fans at the Aldrich Mansion.
“We come from a big family,” she said. “We’ll have plenty of people rooting for us.”
The judging will take place, and award winners will be crowned, while the audience enjoys the show from their cars … guaranteed there will be plenty of honking as the winners are announced.
Couples also dancing with their partners – actually mentors – are Jessica Morse of Amgen with Noah Carsten; Adam Ramsey of APAD with Kathy St. Jean; and Holly Tomlinson from Amica with Josh Morgenstein. Reservations at $90 per person are available online at MentorRI.org/Dancing. Reservations made for the original event will be carried over for this one.