Joyce Strand danced her way to first place last week on her way to winning the regional competition of Dancing Like the Stars.
She won’t be appearing on a TV near you anytime soon. The name is only a takeoff on the television show Dancing With the Stars.
Although performed well, she says she didn’t win for dancing. Strand won because she raised the most money to support an initiative that gives special needs children the chance to play and participate in activities with kids without disabilities. The money sends special needs children to camp for the summer.
That’s the purpose of Dancing Like the Stars, one of the fundraisers of the National Inclusion Project, started by Clay Aiken and Diane Bubel.
Strand, a Garner resident, competed against seven other contestants. Strand raised $7,500, which was the most in the history of the event which is in its ninth year. The second place winner raised about $2,000.
“I contacted every single person I knew, she said. “And I used Facebook a lot. I guess I have lots of different circles of friends. Former colleagues, high school friends, college friends. I just put the word out to everybody and they were generous.
While she raised money, she practiced for weeks dancing with a professional dancer from the Arthur Murray Dance Studios for the final show.
Strand said she practiced twice a week in 45-minute sessions. At the end of the fundraiser, the contestants dance in a show similar to Dancing With the Stars. Strand did a swing dance to the song “Happy.”
Strand, a former music teacher for 28 years, said she’s always loved to dance.
“I started swing dancing probably 12 or 13 years ago,” she said. “Before I met my husband, my girlfriend and I used to go to dances. You used to be able to go to the Durham Armory and they’d have live bands and you could dance. So when this came up and they asked me what dance I wanted to do, I naturally said “swing,” because I wouldn’t be starting from scratch.
A friend of hers asked if she wanted to participate in the contest, because the friend could not. The friend was a friend of Clay Aiken’s mom, Faye Parker.
“I was always curious whether if I was given choreography by a teacher could I really follow it, could I learn it, because I always watched Dancing With the Stars,” she said. “And I said ‘Sure.’”
She said the mission for the fundraiser was a big part of her decision.
All together the group of contestants raised more than $17,000.
“She’s actually our biggest winner of all-time,” Parker said.
Local business people or media or referrals from friends get a chance to dance and raise money. But the competition is not in the dancing. It’s in the fundraiser.
Just as Strand learned whether she could actually perform a choreographed dance, the children who benefit from the fundraiser learn something too.
“Each of them are learning about each other,” she said. “And the kids with disabilities are learning that they have abilities too.”
“I told my friend if you can bring a Joyce every year we’d be in great shape,” she said.
About the National Inclusion Project
The National Inclusion Project grew out of the relationship between Clay Aiken and Diane Bubel and Diane’s then 13-year-old son, Mike who had been diagnosed with autism. The bond between them grew strong as they shared a vision of a world where children like Mike could be fully immersed in society. They had both witnessed children with disabilities repeatedly turned away from activities opened to other children.
Their shared goal came to fruition on July 28, 2003. Since that time, the National Inclusion Project has established itself as a leading voice for inclusion working with a “Who’s who” list of youth organizations – YMCAs, Best Buddies International, Boys & Girls Clubs, CampFire USA, 4H, the Arc – as well as many other local parks and recreation departments, community centers and privately-run programs.
Children with and without disabilities in these programs saw growth in motor skills, social skills, and self-esteem, and the impact of the friendships made will last long into the future.
The National Inclusion Project has worked with hundreds of programs, trained numerous staff members and leaders, and provided inclusive opportunities for over 50,000 children.