TRAVERSE CITY — Habitat for Humanity was about $10,000 short of its $100,000 goal last week going into the final night of the SwingShift and the Stars Dance-Off for Charity.
Then, the Habitat dance team — “star” Dan Brady and instructor Maria West — performed their crowd-rousing rumba to the tune of “Whatever Lola Wants” in the Dec. 20 finale at the City Opera House.
Next, along came an anonymous Santa.
By night’s end, Brady and West took first place in the dance competition, and Habitat fundraisers topped their goal – bringing in $103,000 for a new affordable housing project it plans to start in 2014. That’s the most money ever raised in the competition. The next highest amount was $79,100 raised last year by Food Rescue of Northwest Michigan.
Wendy Irvin, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Grand Traverse Region, said the team had earned about $83,000 by late November and still had “a significant amount” to raise going into the final night.
“When they announced that we had exceeded our goal there were lots of tears of joy, including my own,” she said. “It’s a Christmas miracle.”
And the donor who pushed the total over the top remains unnamed.
Overall, the six Swingshift charity dance teams earned a total $284,000 during the 2013 competition season, which started in September and ended last week. The annual event, now in its sixth season, has raised $971,000.
The Father Fred Foundation and its dancers, star Rick Summers and instructor Jennifer Howard, came in second, earning $69,306, followed by:
n No Unwanted Pets (star Jen Klabunde and instructor Danny Brizard), $49,437
n Grand Traverse Dyslexia Association (star Tammy Ensman and instructor Rodney Woodring), $24,240
n Great Lakes Children Museum (star Lars Kelto and instructor Lauren Harris), $21,704
n Peace Ranch (star Juliette Schultz and instructor Clif Shanoski), $13,488
All the listed totals are unofficial until verified by Traverse City State Bank.
Dan Brady, a former Habitat Humanity board member, attributed the first place win to West.
“She’s a great dancer, a good coach and really driven to make sure we knew what we were doing — that I understood the steps and that we were disciplined in our practice.”
They practiced together one to two hours five days a week, starting at 6:30 a.m.
Some of those practices were bruisers. Their rumba included two complicated lifts. In the first Brady had to toss West over his head in a blind throw and catch her as she came down. They practiced in a pool to soften falls.
“She had to be launched and then get her body totally flat so that I could catch her in my arms,” Brady said of the first lift. The other difficult lift came at the end when he grabbed the bottom of her leg and waist, threw her in the air, turned his body to catch her and then held her balanced on one arm as she stretched one arm up and rested her downward stretched arm on his shoulder.
Judges in their remarks complimented the duo on the trust they had to build to execute those moves.
“I think it was more of Maria having to trust me,” Brady said. She was typically the more vulnerable, but she’s definitely a risk taker and willing to take a chance.
He said he did drop her a couple of times but was able to slow her down and break her fall.
“She had lots of bruises and I pulled some muscles,” he said. “Dances are athletic and I sometimes felt as beat up as I did when I played high school football.”
The pair won three of the four competitions during the past four months.
The time spent was worth it, Brady said. Now, Habitat for Humanity has $103,000 to start work on the first of 10 Habitat houses that will be constructed during the next three years in the Depot Neighborhood project at the southwest corner of Eighth Street and Woodmere Avenue. All of the “zero-energy” homes will be designed to create enough energy to pay utility and heating bills.
Habitat is partnering on the project with HomeStretch Nonprofit Housing Corp., which will build an additional five energy-efficient duplexes and a single-family home in the Depot Neighborhood.
“That’s why we did it — to raise money for a wonderful program that helps people break out of the cycle of poverty through house ownership,” he said.
The dance-off is the 2008 creation of Judy Harrison, a dancer, musician, singer and former Interlochen Arts Academy instructor, who said she wanted to put the “fun” back in fundraising. She is the CEO, lead singer and founder of High Impact Productions, which includes her two bands: SwingShift, which plays a mix of swing, jazz and Latin favorites, and Rebooted, a country band with a big band sound.