JACKSON TWP. The Performing Arts Center inside Jackson High School was packed on the evening of Jan. 11. Starting around 6 p.m., there were 80 dance groups and individual dancers excitedly waiting their turn to perform on stage.
Each dancer paid $45 per dance to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to help fund research and cures for children’s cancer. Some dancers were in three different dances and donated $135. Plus, each dancer had to pay a one-time fee to Jackson Local Schools to cover audio and custodial fees.
The dancers came from 14 different dance studios from Stark, Summit and Medina counties. A few of the studios included A Time to Dance, Art in Motion Dance Center, Candy Apple’s Dance Center, Medina Centre for Dance Art, Soul Inspired Dance Complex and Studio 136 Dance Center among others.
The event was organized by Shananne Lewis and every style of dance was represented including ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, Irish, pointe, contemporary and lyrical.
“Years ago, I read in a dance magazine about a competition in Connecticut that gave all the money to sick kids,” Lewis wrote in an email. “It inspired me. It took me several years to actually put the dream into action but when I woke up at 4:30 a.m. in the morning a couple times, I knew in my gut I had to pursue it. Also, I am getting older in life, I knew now was the time. I am past the point of saying, 'someday I hope to do that.'
“Also, so many studios are in strict competition with each other for students and instructors. I wanted to do something that bonded us for a common mission. I had wanted to do something for ill children, and things fell into place. Jackson High School is a huge supporter of St. Baldrick’s Foundation and so I ran with that once I heard that. The assistant superintendent (Barry Mason) was very supportive.”
Lewis is planning to make Dance With a Mission an annual event. This year it raised more than $7,000 for the foundation.
Lewis believes the event was successful because she feels that everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer in some way.
“It resonates with everyone," she wrote. "The kids love dance and love performing, so it was combining their love for their art with helping someone else. They were dancing with a different purpose. No trophies, not even applause, but to raise money for kids who are in need. My personal dream is to see a group of dance dads learn a dance routine from one of their dance studio instructors who will volunteer their time.”
Lewis is a dance instructor at A Time to Dance and Elite Legends of Ohio, both in North Canton. She earned her bachelor’s degree in dance from the University of Akron. After graduation, she toured Switzerland with Youth with A Mission Summer of Dance tour, a ministry-based dance group. Lewis has performed professionally in the musicals Brigadoon and Oklahoma! at the Carousel Dinner Theatre in Akron and the show Brigadoon at Carousel’s Jupiter Theatre in Florida. She developed and established The Steps of Praise Hip Hop after school program at Lake Center Christian in Hartville.
“Dance With a Mission is a project of love," Lewis wrote. "As an instructor, I was not sure if I would know enough studio owners and even dance instructors to get this event to happen. So, on Aug. 17, 2016 I formed a closed Facebook group just for local dance instructors, studio owners and managers of dance called the Akron-Canton Ohio Dance Instructor Community. I developed relationships and networked with people, hoping to offer a great page that told about master dance classes, teacher certifications and workshops, auditions, jobs and local shows. We currently have 286 members. It has been the prime source for communicating for the Dance With a Mission event. Plus, there is a Facebook page called Dance With a Mission Ohio, which anyone can join."