By Colette Panchot
Fans of ABC’s long-running TV show, Dancing with the Stars, can see six of the show’s former dance professionals locally while supporting the Brian M. Anselmo Memorial Foundation (the BMA Foundation). Dancing with Stars’ Artem Chigvintsev, Sasha Farber, Peta Murgatroyd, Glem Savchenko, Emma Slate, and Britt Stewart will perform as a troupe, serve as judges, or perform with guests who are the highest bidders for the chance.
“Dine and Dance with the Stars” takes place Saturday, June 11 at 5 p.m. at the Sheraton Crown Center. Based on the format of the TV version, local “celebrities” are paired with local professional dancers and receive feedback from judges. Online votes, for a $20 donation, are combined with the donations raised by each dancer to determine the winner.
The nine local contestants are: Anne Waris Alexiou competing for St. Thomas More Grade School (STM for All); Steve Bessenbacher and Ashley Fancher for the BMA Foundation; Robyn Burky for Midwest Animal ResQ; Kevin Ellis for Kids TLC; Karen Hogan for Team Smile; Blake Nelson for Dream Factory; Kristen Pomerenke for Noah’s Bandage Project, and Ryan Wiebe for Bags of Fun. Eleven charities will benefit from the event. The champion receives a mirror-ball trophy inspired by the Dancing with the Stars trophy.
The BMA Foundation was started by Jerry and Mary Ellen Anselmo in 2009 to honor their son, Brian Mitchell Anselmo, who died at age 28. One of their two daughters, Julie Sano, is the executive director of the foundation.
During his lifetime, Brian embodied the Jesuit tradition of being “a man for others.” He was a scholar athlete and a graduate of the St. Thomas More Grade School, Rockhurst High School, and the University of Missouri-Columbia. Brian became a free-range turkey farmer with his business partner Frank Reese, managing the Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch in Lindsborg, KS. Brian also worked for the Animal Welfare Institute educating farmers on the humane treatment of animals.
“Dine and Dance with the Stars” began after Jerry Anselmo appealed to Tony Dovolani, a professional dancer who was then on Dancing with the Stars. Dovolani agreed to participate and brought in other professionals from the show, many of whom have been part of the event year after year, including Topeka native Hayley Erbert. Erbert won’t appear this year because she is dancing in a show with her partner Derek Hough at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.
For contestant Anne Waris Alexiou, owner of Southside Bar and Grill and member of St. Thomas More Parish, the event is a family tradition. Her mother, Patti Waris, won the competition in 2011, and her family attends annually.
Waris Alexiou’s participation is also personal. Her son’s best friend, a survivor of brain cancer, is a benefactor of the BMA Foundation’s work, and she and her fellow church members are working together to seek donations.
“I have a lot of great support. The experience has been very rewarding and opens you up as a person. For anyone willing to accept the challenge, I would definitely encourage them to do it.”
Her professional dance partner, Rafael Labrado of Walters Dance Center, has been involved with the event for eight years. His husband, James Netherton, is training contestant Karen Hogan.
The BMA Foundation has donated $2.5 million to 20 local community organizations. The foundation hosts three events annually on behalf of local charities that focus on children and animal welfare. Their other two events are the Godfather of All Golf Tournaments on August 26, 2022, and the Mouse Derby, which will occur sometime in November 2022.
The foundation has also established a turkey exhibit called Brian’s Coop at Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead to educate kids about the heritage breed turkeys that Brian raised. At Rockhurst High School, the foundation funds a special-teams football award and established the Brian Anselmo Friendship Commons at the school’s fieldhouse.
As he has for the past 13 events, Jerry Anselmo will be sporting a tuxedo accented by a pair of yellow Crocs, which were his late son’s trademark.
“This event is part of our journey of trying to live our lives instead of being broken,” he says. “When I see smiles on kids’ faces, it makes me happy, and it helps ease the pain a little bit.”
Tickets to “Dine and Dance with the Stars,” as well as table and program sponsorships can be found at www.bmafoundation.org.