Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Sun Sentinel.
Dancers, some of whom have never danced before, are about to take the stage for a televised performance to raise money for the George Snow Scholarship Fund. While they trip the light fantastic, they will be dancing for dollars to make sure that deserving students can afford to not only get to college but to make it through successfully with a support network.
The Ballroom Battle has been a staple of the Boca Raton-based scholarship fund for 14 years. It’s referred to as a local spinoff of the ABC TV show “Dancing with the Stars”.
The volunteer dancers are paired with professional dancers from the Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Boca Raton. Eight community leaders were invited to compete in the ballroom dance fundraising competition. The competitors were given a series of dance lessons before they compete for the Mirror Ball trophy.
The idea for the Ballroom Battle came up 14 years ago when someone from another nonprofit put on a dancing event and wanted the scholarship fund to benefit from it. At that time, Tim Snow, who is president of the George Snow Scholarship Fund and son of the man who inspired the organization, said he loved the experience and turned it into a regular event.
“We liked the experience so much we picked it up and continued with it since it was a unique event,” Snow said. “And it’s been remarkable ever since. We sold out almost every year, even as we used larger venues. It’s been growing every year.”
The last time the dance was live in front of an audience was back in 2019. But because of COVID-19, the fund had to rethink how the event would take place. That led to an innovative approach. They decided to take their dance with a purpose to the airwaves since there couldn’t be an audience to watch the competition in person.
The ballroom dance competition is a big part of how money is raised to bring scholarships to financially challenged students in Palm Beach and northern Broward counties. So when COVID-19 removed that as an option, Snow decided they had to get creative.
“Last year during the pandemic, we were all sort of in a panic because this dance is a big part of our budget every year,” he said. “Not having it was going to leave a big hole in our budget. We kicked around all kinds of crazy ideas, including having it in a drive-in theater. We finally thought of doing a television show, so we looked at the cost and it was actually reasonable. So we produced a TV show and it worked out really well.”
History of the scholarship fund
The scholarship fund was established in 1982 in memory of George Snow, a Boca Raton developer who died in a helicopter accident in 1980. He moved to Boca Raton in 1958 to work as a high school math teacher. He moved his career into the fields of real estate and construction, but he remained a believer in the importance of education and helping those who were trying to help themselves. His son has been running with that idea ever since his father died.
“After he passed away in 1980, my brother and I, along with my sisters and some of my dad’s friends, got together to figure out how to memorialize him,” Snow said. “We thought a scholarship fund would be a good way to pay tribute to him. We carry that same philosophy with the scholarships.”
Snow has been at the helm of the organization since 1991. He said that they do a lot of work by going into schools and talking directly with students.
“Normally, in pre-COVID times, we go into the schools to do workshops so that we can let the kids know about the opportunities that we have,” he said. “Last year, we had a little over 1,100 applications and gave out 234 scholarships. We awarded about $2.2 million to students. We’ve actually given out almost $16 million in scholarships since we started.”
The fund has a long history, so it has developed a solid reputation with donors, which has allowed it to provide substantial scholarships as well as ongoing support for the students throughout their college experience.
“The scholarships that we give out are tailored to the applicant and what their needs are,” Snow said. “Our average award is about $10,000. But they can range anywhere from $4,000 up to $20,000. One of the things that set us apart from most other scholarship providers is that once they get a scholarship from us, we really treat them like they are our own kids. We have a dozen different programs that are all designed to try to help them get through college and increase their chances of graduation.”
Robert Snyder is no experienced dancer. As a matter of fact, he can trace the last time he danced to his wedding some 30 years ago. The main reason he decided he would throw his hat in the ring for this worthy cause was that he was influenced by the enthusiasm the CEO of the company he works for had when he participated last year.
“A lot of the dancers in the competition came into this as novice dancers,” Snyder said. “So we worked really hard over the last couple of months to try to hide that inexperience when the cameras roll. The dancing was intimidating for me. I had to put my fears, my anxiety, and my self-consciousness aside, and just open myself up to a new opportunity.”
Being part of the Magnificent 8 dancers, as they are called, was a great experience, he said.
“It’s amazing how quickly eight perfect strangers can be bonded together when going through something like this,” he said. “Everyone has the same anxieties, the same fear, the same desire to raise money. We’re all going through a very similar experience together, which made us quick friends.”
Filming the event on camera was the most intense time for the group.
“When it came to the recording at the TV studio in West Palm Beach, that’s where a lot of real bonding took place,” Snyder said. “We were there together all day long. We got exhausted, but in a really, really great way.”
Dancing aside, he said that what really mattered was the end result.
Morning Update Newsletter
Start your day with the top stories in South Florida.
“All of the really great stories that you see come out of the work that the George Snow Scholarship Fund does really puts everything else in perspective,” Snyder said. “As much as I might be wringing my hands about how well I might have danced, what’s really important is the stories you hear of the really deserving kids that might not have been able to go to college unless they got a scholarship from this amazing nonprofit.”
2021 Ballroom Battle Magnificent 8 dancers
- Elmar R. Benavente — CEO, Be Design
- Kelly Fleming — mother and community volunteer
- Dre Garcia — CEO, EMPOWER Consulting Partners
- Dr. Melyssa Hancock — facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Nose & Sinus Institute of Boca Raton
- Ryan Reiter — director of government relations, Kaufman Lynn Construction
- Mindy Shikiar — former COO, Boca Raton Regional Hospital, board member HabCenter, Boca Raton
- Robert Snyder — executive director, Strategy & Corporate Communications, NCCI
- Dr. Jeffrey Stein — internal medicine
The dance competition will be broadcast at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14 on WPTV-Ch. 5.