Since it happens to be Mad Hot May – and with the Danceworks Mad Hot Ballroom Dance Competition just around the corner – I thought it would be fun to spotlight board member Mario Costantini and take a look back at how it all began!
Several years into my job at Danceworks I was focused on board development. Mario and Cathy Costantini were on our radar, and Tim Frautschi, Roxana Cook and I went to meet with them. While Mario and Cathy were both cordial, it became clear quickly that they were already overcommitted with community service. Mario said if he joined one more board, his wife would divorce him and he’d go bankrupt.
So that was that, until the film Mad Hot Ballroom came out a year later. Everything changed. He joined our board and we went to work to make Mad Hot happen in Milwaukee.
We started a pilot in three schools before we had any funding in the fall of 2006. It wasn’t long before Don and Sallie Davis came forward with seed money to cover those costs. Our first competition took place at Turner Hall.
Meanwhile, Mario called a friend in the film business to see if we could connect with the writer/producer of the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom, Amy Sewell. As the story goes, his friend had just received an invitation to an event promoting the film and Amy was going to be there. We sent her a packet of Danceworks information and she made a pitch for us. Amy agreed to come to Milwaukee to help us kick off the program in January 2007. UPAF and the Marcus Center endorsed the program and we brought potential schools and the community together for an evening of fun and film at Uihlein Hall. It was great and Amy was impressed that we could get it together that fast.
We were fortunate to have the film documentary to promote the program. The film said it all. Our greatest gift was when Steve Costello and the BMO Harris Bradley Center team stepped in to provide the Bradley Center arena for the competition. We ran the program in 22 schools that spring and over 5,000 people attended the community-wide event, which was free to the general public and has remained so ever since (even when we grew to two annual competitions)!
So we hit the ground running. Word of mouth is still our greatest program endorsement. We do our best to serve all the schools that come to us, but there are still more Milwaukee area classrooms that could benefit from the program. We keep working – or dancing, I guess I should say!
In our ongoing attempt to give as many students as possible the opportunity to dance at BMO Harris Bradley Center, there was the year we let all who were not chosen to compete perform an exhibition dance between the rounds of the competitors. These students were having so much fun that they would exit the bowl and run to find anyone they could grab to dance with them in the bowl again and again. It didn’t matter what school they were from—all that mattered was that they knew the dance.
When Liz Tesch, our project manager at the time, realized what was happening, she told us she didn’t have the heart to stop them. “That’s what the program is all about!” she said. Sheer chaos? Maybe. Sheer joy? Absolutely! That was the longest Mad Hot Competition in history. Thank goodness for staff, faculty, volunteers and community who understand the importance of this program in building confidence and discipline and in bringing the community together.
It took many, many wonderful people to make this happen in Milwaukee and I would bet that if you’re reading this you’re one of them. Thank you! And of course, a million thank-yous – more thanks than I could possibly express – to Mario for all his support and passion for Danceworks’ Mad Hot mission.
The health of Milwaukee’s youth is reaching a critical point. While we don’t claim to solve these challenges, we do offer young people a chance to find joy through movement. When the program ends, many are transformed and seek outlets to continue creative expression and physical activity.
Come experience that unforgettable joy on Saturday, May 19 as we say goodbye to the BMO Harris Bradley Center after an incredible 12 years of partnership. But don’t think we’re going away – next year you’ll find us at the UWM Panther Arena. Thank you, Wisconsin Center District CEO Marty Brooks!
Welcome to my blog, where I'm hoping to share a little bit more about the heart and soul behind Danceworks…what makes me tick, what keeps me inspired, and where I can share some of the stories worth telling.