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Cheryl Todmann: Founder of The Stars of NY Dance

The Stars of NY Dance is a first-of-its-kind dance competition that uses community leaders to raise money for dance scholarships. Each year, their performance honors local leaders and shines a light on the impressive work of dance companies in New York City. The Stars of NY Dance brings the power of dance to underserved communities and is an innovative way to increase access to the arts. Learn more here!

What is the inspiration behind The Stars of NY Dance?

I’ve always loved dance and was involved in aspects of it throughout my life, but nothing spoke to me enough to formally pursue it. I had suffered a lot of injuries over my life, but the dance ministry at St. Paul Community Baptist Church taught me how to heal my body through dance when I was 30. I decided to leave my marketing career to open a fitness program, and eventually started doing choreography. I was so moved by what dance companies had done for me in leading me to my passion, which is the intersection of marketing, dance, and social justice. I was watching Dancing With The Stars one night and it all clicked for me— I could have community leaders compete in dance competitions to fund scholarships for kids in dance companies.

Can you tell me about some of the benefits dance has for children?

So far, we’ve provided over 12,000 days of free dance classes for kids in New York City, and the benefits are endless. The biggest thing is increasing confidence and self esteem. That confidence translates to academics as well, and we often see dancers we work with excelling as students. Dance enhances their lives and social emotional abilities, which expands their horizons. It improves discipline and motivation, which is beneficial in every aspect of life. Kids who were once quiet and shy become outspoken and sure of themselves.

What does your annual event entail?

For our performances, community leaders are paired with dance companies in New York City to learn a dance piece. It’s amazing to see young dancers teaching these leaders how to move, telling them to point their toes, and showing them a unique aspect of the community. We have a panel of judges who select the winner of the competition. The dance is normally themed or tailored to whatever the company’s specialty is, like ballet or African dance. The winner gets $5,000 to provide five children with dance scholarships, and every other participant gets $1,000 to fund one scholarship.

What is your favorite part of your job?

It’s hard work to organize all of this, especially since I also work a full time job, but it’s so worth it. Seeing the community leaders in rehearsal is amazing, they are so excited and dedicated. They are amazed at what they’ve been able to learn and are so impressed with the choreography. People in the audience are blown away that these leaders took the time to learn these dances and are so thrilled to see it all come together. We always get such great feedback from participants, I love hearing the stories of the kids who receive scholarships so we can see just how impactful this all is.


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