Ypsilanti — Formal dancing is not exactly in the comfort zone for most. But sometimes, like an impromptu attempt at karaoke, even without much training, it is fun to give it a shot.
Fourteen individuals, most of whom admit they would never have considered themselves dancers, took that approach as they took part Thursday night in the third Dancing with the Michigan Stars fundraiser, which is run in conjunction with the Arthur Murray Dance Studio.
The event raised $143,000 for the ChadTough Foundation.
The foundation funds research and raises awareness for pediatric brain tumors with an emphasis on Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). Michigan alums Tammi and Jason Carr created the foundation to honor their son, Chad, who was 5 when he lost his battle with DIPG. The Carrs have deep roots in the Michigan community. Chad was the grandson of former Michigan football head coach Lloyd Carr and All-American Tom Curtis.
Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich, who spearheaded a fund-raiser before the Outback Bowl, inspiring fans to donate about $300,000 to see him and several of his teammates, defensive coordinator Don Brown and friend-of-the-program Larry Prout, dye their hair orange — Chad’s favorite color — danced the waltz, while Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich, J.T. Rogan, director of communications and operations for coach Jim Harbaugh, and former Michigan receiver and current West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy, also competed at the Marriott Eagle Creek Resort, as did former Michigan football player Shawn Thompson and wife Kelli. Their 5-year-old daughter, Emma, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2014.
Admittedly, all were out of their comfort zones.
“To support our community, to support the Carrs, to help raise money and awareness for DIPG research and a cure for all pediatric brain cancers, I couldn’t feel more honored and privileged to participate,” said Bakich, who will fly Friday to join the baseball team in Nashville. “It’s something that not only (my wife) Jiffy and I are passionate about with three young kids, but our team is happy to be involved. We’re involved in the Run Tough for ChadTough. Really, anything Tammi and Jason could ask us, we’d be happy to help support.”
Bellamy could not decline an opportunity to dance.
“Tammi has been pressuring me for a year, and I came last year to the event, and I figured if (former Wolverine) Andy Mignery could do it, so can I,” Bellamy said. “It’s for a great cause. I’d be remiss if I didn’t come and honor Chad’s legacy.”
The participants practiced one to three times a week, about an hour each time.
Winovich, with his long, blond hair double-curled around his face to look like the prince in Beauty and the Beast, has been taking ballet to help his football and said the transition to learning the waltz was smooth.
“In a way, I’m kind of the beauty and the beast in a sense of, I’m really not a beauty in any way, but I have to be a beast on the field,” he said. “You kind of have to have those two personas and be princely off the field.”
What they found is formal dancing is harder than it looks, but there is a correlation to their team sports.
“You have, this is the game plan, this is the objective, this is what we’re trying to accomplish,” Bellamy said. “Throughout practice, you want to get better each time. Add more pieces to it and finally when you get comfortable with it, it doesn’t feel like practice anymore and you can just go out there and react to it and improvise if you need to. From a sports standpoint, I had a very good dance pro and she challenged me every day, ‘Hey, get better, get better.’"
They also admitted to some nerves before the competition.
“I’m trying to explain to my dance pro, playing in front of 110,000 people is a lot different than dancing in front of 200,” Bellamy said, before laughing. “A little liquid courage and I might be OK.”
While the event is light-hearted and fun, no one ignores why this fundraiser is important.
For Shawn and Kelli Thompson, this is personal. They have three children and their 5-year-old daughter, Emma, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2014. They danced together in the competition for her.
“The ChadTough Foundation has been so dear to our hearts the last four years,” Kelli said. “Just crazy the fact that two weeks ago, we had already signed up for this, she relapsed, and so it means even more to us now. Any time you relapse, you need to find a new source of treatment. ChadTough obviously is funding the majority of research right now for tumors, so it gives us a lot more hope.”
Emma has never wavered in her enthusiasm even while going through tests and treatments.
“She’s always had an old soul and even more so now,” Kelli said. “She’s like the caretaker for everyone, and now she’s the doctor. Everyone gets an IV if we sit on my couch long enough. She has the full doctor garb, and they gave her a mask at the hospital. That’s her favorite thing to do."
No one has an instruction manual for parents going through something like this with their children.
“I still look when I see another family affected and I think, ‘Oh my gosh, how are they going to do it?’ ” Kelli Thompson said. “You always think that and then you get back in it and you do it because you have to. You hope to do it with as much grace as you can, but you also realize it’s the little one who pulls you through. Emma is jumping off my couch right now and dancing. She’s who we draw our strength from right now.”
Emma also gave her parents low marks in their dance.
“She is our biggest critic,” Kelli said, laughing. “She told us how terrible we are.”