Winding up 28 years at the helm of the United Way of Ulster County, Stacey Rein has decided to go out with a bang. Or perhaps “been talked into it” is a better description. At the organization’s Dancing with the Stars – Ulster Style fundraising extravaganza on Friday, April 1, Rein will be one of the dancers onstage, performing a “Swan Song Salsa” as the event’s finale.
Rein has presided over UWUC’s annual dance competition since its inception. In fact, it was her brainchild: “We needed a different kind of fundraiser,” she recalls. “Golf tournaments, 5Ks – they were everywhere.” Noticing dance-offs becoming ever more popular with reality TV audiences, she organized the first one in 2015. It proved a winning formula, piquing interest by other United Way chapters, and returned every spring until COVID-19 forced a two-year hiatus.
Although she says she “grew up in a musical dancing family,” Rein never planned to hog the spotlight herself. It was a frequent community partner of United Way and legendary local dance teacher who twisted her arm into participating at the performer level this time: Bryant “Drew” Andrews of the Center for Creative Education, guiding spirit of the Energy Dance Company.
“Drew has been a colleague for a long time. He got us all our dance instructors that first year,” she relates. When she approached him to help out again for this year’s event, he practically insisted that Rein herself be one of the dancers to mark her retirement as UWUC president and CEO. They began rehearsing together, with the understanding that, although Andrews has great admiration for her leadership skills, “I’m not the leader when we’re dancing,” she says with a giggle. “Everyone’s jealous of me that I have these weekly dance sessions with Drew.”
The other contestants won’t be paired with dance professionals, as is the case in the TV version of Dancing with the Stars, but each couple will have an instructor available to prepare them for their big number. Competing this year will be Lara Hope and Matt Goldpaugh, Erica Brown and Bobby Burke, Anya Ferring and Elwin Cuevas, Nicole Lacy and Travis Rask and Crystal Schachter and Rosie Porco. The latter pair are sisters, and the first same-sex dancing couple in the Ulster event’s history (although most of the couples aren’t couples in real life, and a fair few past contestants have represented the local LGBTQ community).
“I’m on the Board of Trustees for the United Way, so in 2020 a SUNY Ulster co-worker and I signed up to dance to represent the College. We planned a routine to the song ‘Sisters’ from White Christmas, but by the time the United Way was finally ready to have the event again in 2022, he had moved on to another job,” Schacter says. “I’m embarrassed to admit how long I looked for another partner before my sister said, “Why don’t I do it with you?” Duh! So we are, and it’s been a lot of fun and a great opportunity to spend more time together, especially after the past two years of intermittent isolation and distancing. Of course we are sisters, and susceptible to all the typical rivalries despite our 16-year age difference, but a little competition can be a good thing… or a recipe for disaster! I guess we’ll find out.”
After the first year or two, Dancing with the Stars – Ulster Style stopped being seriously competitive, says Rein. While there are judges, drawn from contestants in previous years, “There’s no First-Place prize. We give out awards for Most Entertaining, Best Costume, Best Rhythm, Fancy Footwork and so on. Every couple wins something.” Neither does the audience split into factions, as is typical of TV shows of this type: “I’m really impressed by the community spirit. A lot of people come every year, and everybody cheers for everybody. They all get standing ovations.”
During the intermissions in the show, the dancefloor is opened to all who wish to get up and boogie to selections by a “great deejay.” The audience is diverse in both age and ethnicity, says Rein, and the dance styles and musical genres represented in the program are equally varied. “We typically have tango, hip hop, waltzing, Lindy hop, East Coast and West Coast swing. This year we’ll have salsa and bachata as well…It’s very eclectic.”
Dancing with the Stars – Ulster Style will take place at the Diamond Mills Hotel and Tavern in Saugerties on Friday, April 1. Hors d’oeuvres will be served beginning at 7 p.m., with a cash bar, and the dancing gets underway at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $50, with proceeds supporting important Ulster County United Way programs such as the Emergency and Homelessness Prevention Fund and woman-to-woman mentoring through Raising HOPE. To order tickets, visit www.ulsterunitedway.org/dancing-with-the-stars-ulster-style-2020.