Traverse City's answer to “Dancing with the Stars” is back with a new lineup for its sixth season – as well as a plan to expand to other Michigan communities.
Swingshift and the Stars, a charity dance competition founded by High Impact Productions owner Judy Harrison in 2007, pairs local non-profit organizations with community members who dance at monthly live competitions at the City Opera House to raise funds for charity. During each season, held annually September through December, contestants and their instructor partners compete for audience votes – and donations – by performing to a variety of assigned dance genres and songs.
As unveiled by the organization at a gala event Thursday evening, the roster of participating charities, contestants and instructors for the 2013 season includes (in order): the Father Fred Foundation with Rick Summers and Jennifer Howard, Grand Traverse Dyslexia Association with Tammy Ensman and Rodney Woodring, Great Lakes Children's Museum with Lars Kelto and Lauren Harris, Habitat for Humanity with Dan Brady and Maria West, No Unwanted Pets with Jen Klabunde and Danny Brizard, and PEACE Ranch with Juliette Schultz and Cliff Shanoski.
To date, Swingshift and the Stars has raised more than $687,000 for nearly 30 local non-profits. In addition to funds raised at each event – which are managed by Traverse City State Bank and go directly to the involved charities – the series is also focused on raising awareness for its participating causes. Short documentaries are screened at every event to highlight the missions of the involved non-profits.
“The competition is fun, but the whole reason we're here is for people to learn about what's going on with these charities in their community,” Harrison says.
A crucial key to success for charities is choosing contestants who “have a good support system behind them, who have fun and who you wouldn't always expect to see dancing,” says Harrison. She points to 2012 contestant Homer Nye – a well-respected, retired Traverse City pastor – as an example of a participant who surprised audiences and became a crowd favorite.
This year's lineup also boasts a diverse array of professional backgrounds among its contestants. John Noonan, executive director at the Great Lakes Children's Museum, said he chose Traverse City-based technology consultant Lars Kelto as his representative “because he's one of the most involved parents at the museum...he brings his daughter in every week and understands our (mission).” Habitat for Humanity found a natural industry fit in local painting and restoration expert Dan Brady.
The success of Swingshift in TC might prove contagious. Harrison is partnering with Livonia-based business partners Jim McColgan and Ron Beebe – owners of Awrey's Bakery, the marquee sponsor of Swingshift and the Stars in 2013 – to bring an iteration of the series to the Great Lakes Bay Region (including Bay City, Saginaw and Midland) in early 2014. Beebe cites his impression of the organization as an “honorable group making a difference in people's lives” as a reason he wanted to help bring the event to his community.
"I feel sorry for anyone who isn't involved with them," he says, with a chuckle. "They're a fine, fine organization."
Harrison says the series will still continue each year in Traverse City, but that the Bay Region – and other potential communities down the road – offer Swingshift and the Stars the opportunity to expand its scope and maximize its impact.
“We'd like this to be a far-reaching (organization),” she says. “This is just the beginning for us.”
For more information on Swingshift, visit www.swingshiftandthestars.com.