Written by Erin Santos, ISF Executive Director & President

Let’s back up a minute.  I realized as a talked to different people about Charlotte Ballet’s Dancing With the Stars that people had lots of questions for me about it.  Maybe I wasn’t doing a good job about communicating what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.  In it’s 7th year, the Charlotte Ballet asks 6 leaders from the Charlotte community to participate in their annual event that raises money for both the Charlotte Ballet and the charity of the dancers choice.  You are paired with a member of the company and have 8 weeks to practice a routine.  Then on March 2nd you perform in front a sold-out crowd at the Knight Theater, the one caveat is in these 8 weeks, you are asked to raise funds or “votes” with a suggested goal of $150,000.  The night of the performance, a fundraising champion is crowned as well as a judge’s choice for the best dance.  Seems easy enough, right?  Your selected charity receives 50% of your total funds raised – and for some dancers – it’s a shit ton of money.  As an Executive Director, receiving funds for ISF with no expense on the balance sheet for raising the money is your dream.  So here I am.

Right out of the gate, the dancing piece didn’t scare me.  Don’t get me wrong, that night I will shake like a leaf but honestly, I know I will get through it.  For me, the fundraising piece scares me.  The problem with selecting me as a contestant is that my JOB is asking people for money every day.  The rest of my competition probably isn’t out fundraising for a living so the ask from them may seem more rare – and therefore a little easier.  I have a very giving community of supporters from ISF who I’m hoping will see how important this is and vote for Juwan and I.  But what I’m also hoping will happen is the new visibility ISF receives in the community by being a part of the event.  People who may have never known of Isabella or what we are trying to accomplish for kids with cancer in Charlotte may come across our story and donate/vote to help us build this rare and solid tumor program at Levine.  I’m hoping new supporters and business will come out who want to support the Ballet but see the importance of what we are doing.   Crossing my fingers… also, everyone likes the underdog, right?

Right now I’m a big underdog and the competitive person inside me is struggling as I see my competition inching in on $150,000 raised.  (I’m just over $20,000) But people are telling me it’s early – so I’m counting on that.  So I continue to practice and check in occasionally on my funds raised – that isn’t moving.  But if you read about my journey and want to help – tell a neighbor, post it on your social media – email that buddy that owns a company that might make a big donation.  Anything you can do to help would be appreciated.  I’m honest with myself that I may not be the one with the fundraising trophy at the end, but I need to at least give it my all and would love any help you all can provide.  I just don’t want to embarrass myself. ☺  

Also, my competition has done a great job of filling the audience with their supporters.  I’m so grateful to those of you who are coming that night to watch.  Just seeing some familiar faces in the audience does wonders for me.  I have asked the Ballet to hold 20 tickets for me so I can get more familiar faces to the event.  These tickets are on hold until January 31st.  The event is sold out so if you want them – you have a couple of days to get them.   

Instructions on how to purchase from the held back tickets

1.    Please visit the website here and make a donation of at least $350 to equal one Gold ticket, $700 for 2 Gold tickets, etc. Once the transaction is received it will be recoded from donation to tickets.

2.    Within the guest names field please indicate “Gold Ticket Purchase” and the names of the guests using the tickets.

Now on to the dancing… or at least what kind of looks like dancing.

DAY 6

It’s freezing out.  It’s Sunday and it took everything I could do to get myself out of a warm house and head uptown.  Juwan seems stressed.  This guy dances in the ballet, goes to school, teaches classes, deals with my uncoordinated ass, has a new boyfriend and gave up drinking and social media recently.  I’ve been all over him lately about sending me the music so I can practice at home but I haven’t received it.  I can tell I’m annoying him.   Looking back, I should have been more patient because Juwan’s life makes mine look like I do nothing all week.  We are kind of snippy with each other and there is a little tension.  He takes a seat on the ground and tells me to practice my steps while he works on getting me the music.  I take a walk and realize that I’m probably pushing him because I’m getting nervous.  I also have personal stuff going on that weekend that I’m dealing with and I can feel myself swallowing the lump in my throat before I walk back in the studio.  I am not going to cry because if I do – it really has nothing to do with the music – it’s everything else that weekend.  I’m able to hold it in.  “I’m being a bitch aren’t I?” Juwan says as he comes over to me.  “Yes.  Yes, you are.”  I tell him.  I realize that we are both just dealing with shit that really has nothing to do with dancing.  A mental breakdown is brewing for us both.  We decide to lie down on the floor next to each other and talk nothing about dancing, music or the crap that is really just below the surface for both of us, and I’m okay with this.  Sometimes you just have these days.  I receive the music in my inbox the next morning at 7 am.  I love him.

DAY 7

Let’s start dancing again.  We are working on one of my favorite parts.  Juwan’s whole demeanor has changed and I can tell that both of us had a breakthrough of some kind since we saw each other last.  I’m hitting the steps.  I’m moving easier.  I’m not nervous anymore.  He asks how comfortable I am doing a stunt.  Hmmm… He shows me online and I think – okay I can do that.  He brings in a spotter.  Wait – why do I need a spotter?  Just trust me, he assures me – so I do.  And just like that, he flips me backward and I land it perfectly.  Confidence level – 10.  Okay, try it again but no spotter.  5, 6, 7, 8 and FLIP!  I land hard on the balls of my feet, in heels on the hardwood floor.  Both of my feet go numb.  I sit down instantly and he has me put my feet up against the wall.  They are tingling and I feel like I might pass out.  I look at the bottom of my feet and they are already blue.  I thought I had fractured both of my feet.  I take off my heels and slip my Uggs on – I’m done for the day.  I go home that night and watch my feet bruise from the entire sole of both feet, up the sides.  By the morning, the bruises are black.   Welcome to dancing.

DAY 8

Screw wearing heels.  This lady is back in sneakers.  The feet are tingly and a little numb but they are healing.  I’m not going to practice the flip again for a while but I assure Juwan that I’m going to master it.  I also let him know that the other trick I asked him to take out that took the skin off my ankles and gave me the massive knee bruise is back on.  If I’m going to do this thing – I’m going all the way.  My body will heal.  Juwan is in great spirits and it warms my heart to see him laughing and smiling.  He seems less stressed and I feel what little maternal instincts I have bubbling to the surface, wanting to take care of him but also knowing that maybe just by being a little better today in practice could help a little.  I’m hitting steps, I’m sliding on the ground (doing the move that once rattled me), and I’m hitting the mark.  “Look at you girl!  Knowing these moves!”  I shrug him off but I feel good knowing I’m making a little bit of progress.  We are a little ahead of schedule and I know I have 5 weeks to clean it all up.  I think I’m going to pull this thing out… if my body and my mind can hold it together.  Oh, and I’m starting to have fun.  Look at me.  Who knew?

Erin’s DWTS Blog #1

Event site: gala.charlotteballet.org

Follow @IsabellaSantosFoundation