By Melanie Wong
On June 23, a handful of local residents will trade in their day jobs as chefs, business owners and realtors for dancing shoes and a night under the spot light.
The Vail Valley Foundation Youth Foundation’s fourth annual Star Dancing Gala pairs “local celebrities” with professional dance instructors. The pairs have been working for months on a single dance – each team has a different song and style of dance, modeled after the television show “Dancing with the Stars” – and will provide the entertainment for the annual fundraising gala.
The fourth annual event starts at 6 p.m. at the Vail Valley Jet Center in Gypsum and will also feature performances by local children who participate in Youth Foundation programs, as well as an auction with one-of-a-kind items. Items include a VIP New York Fashion Week Experience, a five-night stay in a private villa at Las Verandas Hotel and Villas at Pristine Bay on Roatan, a private party for up to 45 guests at Kelly Liken Restaurant, several seven-night Inspirato vacations at locations around the globe and a 2013 Volvo S60 sedan. All proceeds will benefit the foundation’s programs and its mission of “fostering growth, development and success of children throughout the community.”
Its programs include afterschool clubs, mentoring, reading programs, mountain biking, snowshoeing teams and more. The theme of this year’s event is “Imagine.”
“While the theme and décor will convey more of a ‘Willy Wonka-esque’ feel, we also can’t help but imagine the possibilities that will be made possible to our children through the generous support of participants,” says the VVF’s vice president of education, Susie Davis. “No matter whether that involves learning to read, developing a friendship with a mentor, taking a risk on a mountain bike or being the first in the family to attend college, our local children will continue to have the opportunity to dream and imagine a bright future.”
Move your feet
The 2012 Star Dancing Gala celebrity lineup includes Luca Bruno, Carl Colby, Susan Frampton, Lulu Garton, Kitty Gwathmey, Becky Hernreich, Connie Kincaid, Mark Kogan, Kelly Liken, Anne Roberts, Lynda Gustafson-Sampson and June Vanourek.
Professional dancers donating their time and talent will include Maria Barry, Inga Cox, Scott Hopkins, Colin Meiring, Blaze Olle, Mark Pennington, Meredith Steinke and Amy Wentworth. In addition to watching the dancers on the night of the gala, you can also vote for your favorite dance team online at www.stardancinggala.com for $1 per vote.
Bruno, owner of the Vail Village clothing store Luca Bruno, says that while he’s a first-time dancer, he was up for the challenge to support the Youth Foundation. He has two elementary aged kids who participate in some of the nonprofit’s summer programs.
“For many of these programs, the teachers actually work extra hours. They really help the kids in this valley, and we want to support them,” Bruno says.
He admits that his performance, a tango with dance instructor Inga Cox, has been quite the learning experience.
“I never danced in my entire life, and I’m 44 years old. My brain doesn’t work with my feet, and that’s a big problem we have,” he laughs.
Another dancer, chef and restauranteur Kelly Liken, doesn’t have kids of her own in Youth Foundation programs, but works with local children through her nonprofit Sowing Seeds in conjunction with the Vail Valley Foundation. The program is in three Eagle County elementary schools and provides the school with a greenhouse, garden and curriculum for teaching the students about science, gardening, health and nutrition.
With the help of local gardener Sandy Story, the program has launched at Brush Creek and Edwards Elementary, and plans are in the works to start at June Creek Elementary. The vegetables grown in the Sowing Seeds greenhouse have been integrated into a cafeteria school lunch program and students are saving their lunch scraps to add to the composting stations in the greenhouse. During the summer, students sell their produce at the local farmers market as well.
Liken will be performing a waltz with ballroom instructor Scott Hopkins to John Mayer’s “Daughters.”
“I think the gala is such an awesome event. It brings people from all over the valley and it’s not your typical fundraiser. It’s refreshing,” Liken says.
She and Hopkins have been working on the dance since March, and Liken says the most challenging part is getting the final polishes on the piece.
“I have no dance background, so this has been fun but challenging. I am starting to get a little nervous to do it in front of a 1,000 people, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve made a fool of myself in front of a crowd!” she says.
The limited remaining tickets for the fourth annual Star Dancing Gala are $275 per person and are available online at www.stardancinggala.com. Various event packages are also available. For additional information on the Youth Foundation, visit www.theyouthfoundation.org.
Davis says one of the best things about the gala is that participants and donors can see the effect of the Youth Foundation’s work in the community.
“This playful evening doesn’t end with dancing,” says Davis. “The effects of the Star Dancing Gala are experienced daily all year through opportunities for local children. This is what constantly reminds us to continue reaching for the stars.”