Winner two years running of the Humanitarian Award at the Vegas Dance Explosion, Valarie Keller is a straight talker, hardworker with determination in every pore, completely committed to her cause, fun loving and an addicted line dancer! Quite a combination.
Val started line dancing 15 years, she needed exercise and she loved to dance. Not long into her learning curve her teacher left to pursue other interests; Valarie was asked to take over the class and hasn’t stopped instructing since. An inveterate volunteer, Val had worked for other fund raisers such as a Boys and Girls club and an Awards event, so she decided to help out at a line dance workshop. As with her class, when the Event Director quit, Val took over. She had her own ideas though, and she renamed the event calling it ‘Dancin’ For Miracles’ and chose to fund-raise for a charity with her own personal connection. She lost her Dad to cancer and since then has lost a number of her close friends and family. As Valarie told me, “The money we raise goes only to research and that was my choice because so many people who attend the event have also lost family and friends. We could not save my dad but maybe someday we will find a cure and make cancer history”.
These are lofty goals and some people might question whether an individual could put much of a dent in the money needed to fund cancer research but Val has raised over $75,000 in 7 years. How did she do it you might ask? Well first of all she has supportive and encouraging family and friends also dedicated to this cause, and Val credits them with making it all possible and adds that “also without the line dancers themselves the event and the fund raising would not be a success”. So it takes the whole package.
But let me tell you a little about the event. . First of all it is held close to Wasaga Beach in Ontario, Canada, a beautiful soft sand beach that seems to go on forever. Quite a few people go up a little earlier so they can walk the beach and have a swim in the balmy waters of Georgian Bay. There is lots to do in the area, cycling and walking paths, great golf courses, good eating and much more. However, for the Ontario dancers, it is ‘Dancin’ For Miracles’ that is the area’s greatest attraction. It has become a meeting spot; a place to catch up with old friends and meet new, all who share the same love of dance and the huge hall is always packed.
I should add here that Valarie lives miles away from Wasaga Beach, it is not her hometown. She and her family and friends pack three long trucks full of decorations, prizes, equipment, registration packages, etc, etc and the convoy makes it way across Ontario. By the time the dancers arrive the large hall is always colourful and welcoming and Val is at the front door waiting to welcome the dancers. The event starts with the Friday evening dance at which dancers know the instructors will be subject to a game created by Val’s vivid imagination which will have them in gales of laughter. Saturday is a day of workshops. Every year Val invites different Ontario Instructors to teach; she is a great believer in local talent and she has been proven correct again and again. The instructors always teach an excellent mix of dances. The classes are often interrupted however by Valarie and her ever tolerant volunteers garbed in weird and wonderful costumes intended to ensure that the paying customers’ stomachs ache with laughter by the time they go home! Val tells the story of the time one of the instructors had to be carried onto the stage because she had two rubber alligators strapped on her and couldn’t bend her legs! Valarie will do anything for a laugh, “Good for the soul”, she reckons.
Every year there is a theme and Val comes equipped with often outrageous costumes that she has accumulated over the years. This year for the evening entertainment Valarie came up with the idea of a game show with ‘Wasaga’s Top Models’. So costumes were needed for 26 models who were a sight to behold for sure!! There were 26 contestants who bought a $5 ticket and won a draw for the chance to win $500. However each contestant received a prize, pretty good ones at that, DVD players, gift certificates, a Weekend for Two in Niagara Falls and so on. In fact, no dancer leaves the event empty handed. Nowhere else have I ever seen such a mammoth array of gifts. There is the Penny Sale organized by Val’s Mum, Betty, which is enjoyed by all as they meander the length of the tables choosing which prizes they'd like to win. Meanwhile in the Corner Auction, for only a $1 an envelope most of the dancers end up with quite a collection of goodies. There is also a raffle with, again, wonderful prizes. I’m told that there is a separate room in the Keller household that is set aside to hold all these items. All the prizes are donated; Val is a very persuasive individual.
Aside from the laughs, is there anything especially touching that you remember, I asked her. After thinking about it, Valarie said it brought tears to her eye, “When my brother in law Ray went on his own and presented me with a plaque for all my hard work in raising money for our cause. I always feel so wonderful as well when people have a great time and raise all that money for cancer, and then they come and tell me what a lovely time they have had”.
So how did she feel when she first won the Vegas Award? “I was totally blown away, I could not believe that I had won. However, the award belongs to everyone who attends, volunteers and donates”.
I should add here that Valarie works full-time as a hairdresser. She also has a large very close family of 2 brothers, 4 sisters, 4 nephews and 6 nieces as well as her Mum at whose home the family always gathers for Sunday meals, so she is one busy lady. I wondered how she could find the time to do the multitude of tasks needed to organize and run an event of this size and complexity. “You just find it”, she said simply. Indeed, Valarie is an inspiration to us all and reminds us that individuals can make a difference in a major way if they are determined to and if their actions come from the heart.