Dancing with the Celebrities founder Barbara Leininger. Photo by Adam Reynolds

Dancing with the Celebrities founder Barbara Leininger. Photo by Adam Reynolds


On September 24, Bloomington’s Dancing with the Celebrities, a competition that raises money for local charities, will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Barbara Leininger, the event’s founder and organizer, hopes to mark the occasion by reaching the $1 million mark in cumulative funds raised. Leininger, who owns the local Arthur Murray Dance Studio, modeled the contest after ABC’s legendary Dancing with the Stars reality series.

As on the television show, amateur dancers are paired with professionals (in this case, instructors from Leininger’s Arthur Murray studio) to perform routines in front of an audience and a team of judges. The grand prize, the Mirror Ball, goes to the dancer representing the charity that has accumulated the most audience support. Every dollar donated to a charity counts as one vote. There is also a Judge’s Choice award for the best dancer.

“Our very first year, we raised $10,000,” Leininger says. By the second year, the competition raised $80,000, and every year since it has garnered about $90,000. “I choose only local charities. I want the money to stay here in Bloomington,” she explains.

This year, jazz singer Janiece Jaffe will dance on behalf of Middle Way House, which recently lost a large grant. She says she hopes to raise enough funds to make up for the loss. And, for the first time, two of the six dancers in the competition are married. Comedian Brad Wilhelm, director of Rhino’s Youth Center, will dance for that charity. He has announced plans to crush his wife, Ivy Wilhelm, who will be dancing on behalf of CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates for children involved in abuse and neglect cases.

Brad says he realizes that won’t be easy. “I’ve always liked to dance,” he says. “But my dancing was mostly thrashing around in front of a band. I’m learning how much artistry and work goes into it. I’m not as coordinated as I thought.”

“The event gets competitive but in a good way,” Leininger agrees. Dancers start training with their teachers — and raising money for their causes — months in advance. Leininger even flies in a professional dance coach from Florida to choreograph routines for each team.

The rest of the lineup for this year’s competition includes Laurel Adams dancing for Cardinal Stage Company, Skip Daley dancing for PALS (People and Animal Learning Services), and Richie Gillespie dancing for Stone Belt. For more information, visit dwtcbloomington.com.