Dancing Star Reggie Nance of AARP with his choreographer and partner Synchana Madonna of Pure Onyx Movement

On Friday, six New Yorkers from corporate, to clergy, to government, to nonprofit laced up their shoes, challenged their bodies and put their best foot forward to do something they’d never done before: dance for a cause.

It was the 9th Annual Stars of New York Dance, a competition where community leaders are coupled with trained dancers to compete for a $5,000 prize that is donated to a deserving arts organization of their choice.

Cheryl Todmann, founder and producer of Stars of New York Dance, gives opening remarks at 9th annual competition

Founded by Cheryl Todmann and hosted by Errol Louis of NY1 News, this year’s contest, which took place at LIU’s Kumble Theater, proved once again that if there’s one thing New Yorkers can do, it’s dance!

“It’s said that the number 9 is a number of leadership and generosity and the symbol of completion and fulfillment,” said Todmann,  who performed in the show’s opening with Balmir Latin Dance Studio. “In the past 9 years, more than 120 notable New York City leaders have engaged with The Stars of New York Dance, and through [their] generosity, have helped provide more than 8,500 days of free dance education and training to deserving children.”

At the top of the evening were four local dance companies sharing special performances in honor of Frances Bell and Robert L. Henry of Frank R. Bell Funeral Home, this year’s Stellar Humanitarian Award recipients.

This year’s recipients of the Humanitarian Award: Frances Bell and Robert L. Henry

“Fran and Bob are daring dreamers who love the arts,” said Todmann. “You can always find them doing something new– joining a rock band, learning a dynamic dance routine or traveling across the country on a motorcycle. They are deeply compassionate, making their life’s work to comfort and care for families when they need them the most.”

Public Advocate and newly elected NYS Attorney General Letitia James and Bishop Eric both spoke on the importance of continuing funding for arts education for children. Then, Melissa Vaughan of Professional Center for the Arts and one of the competition’s judges shared a touching account of how Bell and Henry made her own mother’s home-going ceremony one of the most touching and compassionate experiences that she would never forget. “[Bell and Henry] said their favorite song was ‘Endless Love,’ so I’ve choreographed a piece to that song just for them,” said a teary-eyed Vaughan.

Creative Outlet DAnce Theatre of Brooklyn Artists perform as part of special tribute to Frances Bell and Robert L. Henry

Then it was on to the big moment: the dance competition! Six couples competed, performing routines they had practiced for six weeks. Routines ranged from salsa to hip hop to modern to everything in between. This year, each couple brought in background dancers, props, live drums and singers; it was a theatrical experience that raised the bar.

Each couple was scored by a panel of five judges on originality, creativity, technique, showmanship and costumes … and the competition was thick!

Local Star, Dr. Katrina Sparks, an educator for special needs children, who was paired with James Williams of Uptown Dance Academy, opened the competition and revved the crowd up with a interpretive number scored to the music of Drake and Rihanna. Then, Local Star Henry Butler, district manager of Bed-Stuy’s Community Board 3 and president of Vanguard Independent Democratic Association, who was paired with Careitha Davis of Cumbe Center for African and Diaspora Dance, took us back to 90s dancehall during a time when Beenie Man, Shabba Ranks and Bounty Killer were calling the music shots in Brooklyn.

Dancing Star Lesleigh Irish-Underwood with her partner and choreographer Keon Washington

The next couple, Reggie Nance, associate state director of multicultural outreach at AARP and dancer Synchana Madonna of Pure Onyx Movement retold the magical story of boy-meets-mermaid, captivating the crowd with their elaborate costumes and heartwarming– yet humorous– interpretation. Next up was Dancing Star Lesleigh Irish-Underwood, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for United Way of New York City, who was paired with Keon Washington of RestorationART Youth Arts Academy. Underwood and Washington gave a stirring performance to Donald Glover’s “This is America” that befittingly spoke to our current social climate in which racial equity and social justice have once again become our nation’s highest calling.

Dancing Star Lenny Green with his dancing partner Migdalia Santiago

Next was a Local Star by the name of Beast, the East Coast representative of The Peacekeepers, dancing with Rukiya McCormick of Creative Outlet Dance Theatre of Brooklyn. These two presented a colorful, fun and modern interpretation of hot-stepping to Cardi B’s “I Like it Like That.”  The evening’s final performance came from Dancing Star and radio personality Lenny Green of WBLS’s “Quiet Storm,” along with Migdalia Santiago of Balmir Latin Dance Studio. Green and Santiago gave a final pick-me-up performance in the spirit of West Side Story, a Latin-flavored dance-off between men and women, as Green worked hard to “salsa” his way into the heart and desires of his lady partner.

In the end, dance duo Nance and Madonna, rose as the brightest stars and took home the first place award with a perfect score of 10, most certainly for their costuming, originality and joie de vivre! They had the crowd smiling and clapping and laughing the whole way through.

This year’s competition managed to raise the bar and prove once again that when it comes to dancing, New Yorkers reign supreme! Check out  the video recap here:


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