A dancing couple representing Bed-Stuy brought home the winning trophy Friday night at the second annual Stars of New York Dance, hosted by Errol Louis of NY1’s “Inside City Hall,” and honoring National CARES Mentoring Founder & CEO and Editor in Chief Emeritus Susan L. Taylor.
Dancing star Reverend Lawrence Aker, III, senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Dr. Melissa Vaughan of Professional Center for the Arts Inc. were the winners at the star-studded show.
Held this year at the Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts in Downtown Brooklyn, Stars of New York Dance is a judged dance competition inspired by Dancing with the Stars that raises dance scholarship funds for children from low-income communities in NYC to increase their access to dance and the arts.
The winning couple was the last to perform in a nail-biting competition that seemed to get more fierce with each performance. And it was a close call: All of the competing couples brought their A-game, each showcasing impressive and, at turns, funny and entertaining moments.
WBGO radio host Sheila Elaine Anderson’s dance to the jazzy “It’s Too Darn Hot,” by Ella Fitzgerald brought out the smiles in everyone; Reverend Frederick C. Ennette’s high-energy performance to Gloria Estefan’s “Turn the Beat Around,” had folks shimmying in their seats; Community leader Teresa Coaxum and Dallas McMurray of Mark Morris Dance Group seemed to have as much fun dancing with each other to Jay-Z’s “Otis” as two kids in a playground; and the costuming and story line behind District Leader Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. and Karen Thornton-Daniels's performance was not dissimilar to watching a Broadway musical.
The competition was almost a wrap when the second-to-last couple, Laurie Cumbo, founder of MoCADA Museum and her partner Jamel Gaines came sweeping out in an elegant and passionate ballroom dance performance so tongue-and-cheek high drama, it added a new level of “soap” to opera.
Cumbo and Gaines quickly gained the crowd’s favor, as Cumbo assumed full-on diva/damsel-in-distress mode. The plotting couple even handed out red roses to audience members before the show and instructed them to throw them on stage at the dance’s conclusion. The dramatic yet comical result was a huge exclamation point at the end of what seemed to be the last paragraph of the show.
The crowd jumped to its feet at the end of their performance, at which point Cumbo surprised everyone by motioning the Beyonce-Baby-Bump signal over her stomach.
“Are you two married?” joked one of the judges at the end of their emotional performance.
Alas, all of the excitement was only the perfect setup for the last couple who leveraged the crowd’s energy (and at that point, low expectations) to come out swinging and dancing to Teddy Pendegrass’s “I Don’t Love You Anymore.”
What’s more funny and entertaining than seeing a reverend slap his wife with divorce papers, proclaiming he’s leaving her, and then later… with her legs wrapped tightly around his neck, spin her across the dance floor?
But it wasn’t just the irony of their characters that made their performance show-stopping: They had chemistry as a dancers, and they were giving the crowd a well choreographed, rhythmic performance-- reminiscent of the 70s Soul Train days.
It also did not hurt that the entire congregation of Cornerstone Baptist Church seemed to be in the house, whooping it up.
City Councilmember Letitia James – who danced in last year’s competition and who this year, served as a judge – gave a comedic and playful rendition of Beyonce’s “Put a Ring On It.” Other judges for the evening were Cheryle Wills, Board of Directors for United Way of New York City, author and artist Danny Simmons and guest choreographer Jauquette Greene.
Performing in Taylor’s honor were Grammy Award-winning vocalist Gordon Chambers, along with the Esthers of Dance, featuring Todmann who gave a near-perfect, professional-like surprise performance.
Louis, the evening’s host, danced an exquisite Tango with Mariana Parma, a professional tango dancer from Dance Manhattan. And Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer presented Taylor with a proclamation that Friday, November 18, 2011, is “Susan L. Taylor Day,” but not before he too did a little two-step himself with a guest dancer and friend.
Cultural Critic Michael Eric Dyson shared a bouquet of beautiful words about Susan Taylor and her contributions to fashion, journalism and community organizing on behalf of children of color.
He and his wife Michelle also danced backup to singer and entertainer extraordinaire Lady Laura, whose thrilling performance of “Proud Mary,” would make Tina Turner take note. Laura’s electric performance evoked some of the loudest yelps and screams of the evening. (Now really, who amongst us thinks we will be able to do a handstand at 60 years of age)?
The event was full of laughter and cheers. But without question, the proudest moment Friday evening was seeing the children perform. Watching the young dancers perform underscored the importance of investing in arts and music by providing more children with a creative outlet for expression and physical discipline.
For those few hours, watching the children dance their hearts out was a reminder of why we live with optimism that each new day will renew us; why life’s own heartbeat always will drive us to jump and to stretch and call and respond.
And why for both children and adults alike, to dance is to live and to be free.