Mario Costantini and I used to love to tell the story of how Danceworks Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap (MHBT) got started in Milwaukee. We told it a lot. That is, we did until our spouses had enough of hearing it and their big sighs let us know it was time to change the subject.
Well, who expected we’d still be going strong eight years later? And how many people actually know that story now…?
We’re ready to launch our 2014 MHBT program in 50 schools citywide. It’s good to know one’s roots. So I’m telling it once again!
Not long into my job, we were fortunate to receive support from the Nonprofit Management Fund for board development. Mario and Cathy Costantini were both on our “hit list.” Tim Frautschi, Roxana Cook and I went to meet with them. While Mario and Cathy were both cordial enough, it was clear pretty quickly that the odds were not in our favor. Individually, they were already serving on a number of boards, plus they ran a business, La Lune Collection, a furniture factory in Riverwest. They declined. Mario told me afterwards, “If I join one more board, my wife will divorce me and I’ll go bankrupt.”
That was that. Until…
The film Mad Hot Ballroom came out. I got a call. “Deb you have to go see this movie!”
I did and told Mario I loved it.
Then he said, “Well, if you are interested in working together to bring the program to Milwaukee, I will join your board.”
I was, and Mario joined the Danceworks board in the spring of 2006. We started a pilot in three schools before we had funding that fall, and then received seed money from Don and Sallie Davis, which covered our costs. Our first competition was at Turner Hall.
Next, Mario called a friend—Lauren Stevens in New York, who is in the film business—to see if we could connect with the writer/producer of the Mad Hot Ballroom film, Amy Sewell. Lauren said to Mario, “Well, isn’t that interesting–I just received an invitation to an event this Friday promoting her film and she will be there. Send me information and I’ll pitch it for you.”
We did. Amy Sewell agreed to come to Milwaukee to help us kick off the program in January 2007. UPAF and the Marcus Center gave us a seal of approval, and we brought potential schools and the community together for an evening of fun and film at Uihlein Hall. It was great. Amy was impressed that we could get it together that fast.
Funders kept telling us to wait a year and plan, but we knew we had to seize the moment. We were fortunate to have the film to promote the program. It said it all, and people came on board pretty quickly. At our first meeting with a funder, we were told, “Go see who else is interested. If others are, we will be too.”
So we had to work for it—but it made us get around and share our story and talk about the program. We ran the program in 22 schools that spring. As the legend goes, Steve Costello and the BMO Harris Bradley Center joined in to provide the Bradley Center arena for the competition.
So we hit the ground running and haven’t stopped. We have never had to call a school to get them to sign up; word of mouth has always been our endorsement. We do our very best to serve every school that comes to us but there are many more classrooms that could benefit from the program.
It took many, many wonderful people to make this happen in Milwaukee. You can go to our MHBT page on our website to see all of our funders and supporters, take a look at our DVD (2008), and learn more about our program.
I would bet that if you’re reading this, you’ve probably contributed to the success of this program in one way or another. So let me use this space to end by saying, “Thank you!”
We couldn’t do it without you.
Welcome to the Danceworks blog, where we're hoping to share a little bit more about the heart and soul behind Danceworks… what made us join the dance and keeps us dancing, what keeps us inspired, and where we can share some of the stories worth telling.