The phone message was long and impassioned, but not very optimistic.
"He was too big a fish in the sea for a first time out event," Arleen Stewart reflected recently of making the call to Sean McLeod.
Stewart was organizing "Dancing with Our Stars," an evening for the benefit of the George & Rebecca Barnes Foundation, a group with the sole purpose of saving the house at 930 James Street, which figured prominently in the Jerry Rescue.
"My buy-in was the saving of one of the most important structures of the Underground Railroad," said McLeod, president of the New York Institute for Dance and Education, artistic director for Kaleidoscope Dance Theater and, after returning the call, executive producer of Stewart's event. The event which will pair 15 local celebrities with dance instructors from six local studios, Friday, April 18, from 6 to 10:30 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the Hotel Syracuse.
"The building is one of the 12 stops along the Freedom Trail," Stewart observed. "George Barnes put up $2,000 in bail money for William Henry in the Jerry Rescue. The building will need a million dollars in repairs over the next few years. I was brainstorming with a friend over a glass of wine about how to come up with it. At first we thought to do an "American Idol," but I mean, where would we get that much talent. Then we hit on 'Dancing with the Stars.'"
[Recruiting was easy]
Stewart thought it would be hard to recruit the local stars, but had a full roster after sending out only 30 invitations.
"They've been practicing for months," McLeod noted of the enlistees. "The first day the trepidation in the room was palpable.
The challenge for them was to walk past their fear. Public personalities spend a lifetime creating a persona. Dance has the potential to obliterate that, with weakness and inability exposed."