When Faye Parker first stepped onto the stage at the Southern Women’s Show, little did she know she was about to embark on a 12 year journey of sequins, shimmies and service.
The show Dancing with the Stars had taken TV by storm. Sensing a golden opportunity for philanthropy, the SWS organizers reached out to the nonprofit Andy’s Transplant and A Step to Gold Dance studio, and asked them to put together a similar performance event. Only in their version, the dancers would gather donations and whoever raised the most money “won” the competition.
It was uncharted territory, and everyone was a bit skeptical about how to turn the idea into a reality. Finding performers proved especially challenging.
That’s where Faye Parker comes in. At the time, her son, Clay Aiken, was enjoying huge success in his entertainment career, and a mutual friend of the dance studio suggested they try to get Faye on board.
“Knowing they couldn’t get (Clay), they thought it would be fun to include his mom,” Parker recalls. “But when the studio called I said no way. Out of my comfort zone. Performing is Clay’s thing, not mine.”
The organizers didn’t give up, though. A few weeks later they called Parker back and tried again. “I asked who else they had on board, and they said they didn’t have anyone. But they firmly believed if I agreed to participate they could make it happen. So reluctantly I said yes.”
And they were right.
Shortly thereafter, the studio recruited 2 soccer players, a former Miss North Carolina and Mike Morse from G105 radio to dance and raise money. The show was on!
The first year the audience was packed.
“I don't know if people thought Clay might make an appearance since I was dancing, or just if they were just glad to see the show,” recalls Parker with a wry grin. “As it turned out, both of my sons were in fact in the audience. They told me they were going to the ZOO. How appropriate; maybe it was a zoo after all!”
Faye remembers being quite nervous before she stepped out on stage to begin her slow Latin dance. But the nerves must not have translated to the performance, as Parker was ultimately dubbed the first DLTS “winner.”
“Whether that was due to my dancing or fundraising skills is anyone’s guess!” Faye says with a wink.
The event turned was so successful that the dance studio agreed to sign on for a second run at next year’s Southern Women’s Show--but only if Parker did, too. And she agreed, but with two conditions:
- She hang up her dancing shoes and serve as coordinator for the event.
- All the funds raised go to National Inclusion Project (that’s us!).
And the rest is dancing history. Parker has spearheaded the event every year since.
“Rounding up dancers is usually the hardest part,” says Parker. “I reach out to local celebrities and business people; but of course, those people tend to be busy. And not everyone is keen to get on stage and perform alongside trained dancers--something I can definitely relate to! So when I do get someone on board, I make sure to keep in touch during the rehearsal process and serve as a source of encouragement and enthusiasm.”
Parker also makes sure performers with disabilities are included each and every year. “After all, National Inclusion Project’s mission is to promote inclusion in all aspects of life. And there’s no better education than seeing inclusion in action.”
Don’t miss your chance to witness the magic of dance and inclusion THIS Saturday, April 14th at 4 pm at the Southern Women’s Show. Thanks to the ballroom stylings of Fred Astaire dance studio and our amazing roster of dancers, it’s sure to be a show to remember!
If you can’t attend, please consider donating to the performers; all the details can be found on the #DLTS2018 webpage.