By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS, email@example.com
TRAVERSE CITY — When he learned he was chosen as a contestant on the new season of SwingShift and the Stars Dance-Off for Charity, Homer Nye's reaction was automatic.
"I thought about prayer, but since I'm retired that might not work anymore," said Nye, former pastor of The Presbyterian Church in Traverse City.
The community activist is one of six local "celebrities" and their dance instructor-partners who will compete in this year's event to raise money for their favorite charities.
Nye and his partner, Jennifer Halstead, will dance for Food Rescue of Northwest Michigan, which Nye helped found. The organization collects nearly 20,000 pounds of food a week for more than 40 food pantries in the Grand Traverse region.
"We have no means of support other than the donations of people, businesses and foundations," said Nye, board co-chairman of the organization, a program of Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan. "Our goal is to get food to people and the only way we can do that is to put gas in the trucks and pay drivers."
The four-event competition begins Sept. 21 at the City Opera House and ends Dec. 21. Dance teams perform in front of a live audience, who can vote for their favorite couple for a minimum donation towards one of the six charities. Donation totals and the winning couple — determined by the cumulative audience vote and judges' scores — are announced at the final event.
Besides Nye and Halstead, the fifth annual competition will feature Erika Erickson and instructor Cliff Shanoski, dancing for Michigan Blood; Kelly Ignace and instructor Rodney Woodring, dancing for Single MOMM; Tammy Tarsa and instructor Victor Dinsmoore, dancing for Hospice of Michigan; Craig Rosenberg and instructor Liz Reincke, dancing for Old Town Playhouse; and Kevin Fitzpatrick and instructor Jennifer Howard, dancing for Traverse Health Clinic.
WFCX-FM ("The Fox") radio personality Rich Nadeau and TV 7&4 news anchor and former Dance-Off contestant Melissa Smith will serve as emcees.
The 2012 season is a milestone for the event, said founder Judy Harrison, whose Dance-Off has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for area charities.
"This year takes us up to 30 charities that we touched. And with the first event, we should be over the half-million dollar mark, which is kind of neat for our fifth anniversary," said Harrison, who doubles as lead vocalist for her band SwingShift, which performs at the events.
Nye, 67, is this season's oldest contestant. He said he'll get in shape for the event by adding the treadmill to his regular fitness routine, which includes yoga and pickleball three times a week.
"I'll be 68 by the time this is over, providing I live through it," he said.
With a few steps performed in a kilt on Reformation Sunday — the annual remembrance of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation — and a turn around the floor at hundreds of wedding receptions, he said his only dance background is connected to the church.
"I have danced around a lot of difficult situations. Other than that, I have no dance experience," he said. "My wife thinks (this event is) great because I'll finally learn to dance."
For tickets or more information, call City Opera House at (231) 941-8082.