- Associated Press - Sunday, May 8, 2016

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - Twenty minutes before her performance at Dancing with the King on April 21, Leah Barton felt a little nervous about dancing in front of a crowd.

She began dancing a year and a half ago. Her love for dancing led to her to apply for a scholarship to cover two days of dance workshops.

Her dance partner, The Dance Studio instructor Zack Wallace, guided her though steps to get her ready for the competition.

“The list of what I’ve learned is almost endless,” Barton said. “I’ve been learning to get over my stage fright.”

Wallace began dancing nine years ago and moved to Tupelo from Birmingham to begin instructing at The Dance Studio.

Working at the studio opened the doors to work with Dancing with the King, a three-day event dedicated to Elvis and his impact on dancing.

“It’s fun to dance to Elvis,” Wallace said. “A lot of modern music seems to follow a common love theme, but a lot of Elvis songs are just fun in general.”

Dancing with the King began three years ago through a four-part partnership with the CREATE Foundation, presenting sponsor Tupelo Elvis Presley Fan Club, scholarship recipient selectors Tupelo Ballroom Dance Club and event organizers The Dance Studio.

This year, Dancing with the King raised over $20,000 in scholarship funds for 80 scholarships that go toward covering workshop expenses and future dance education.

Grants from the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area, Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, Visit Mississippi and the Elaine Dundy & Roy Turner Endowment for the Arts helped out.

Rubye Del Harden, co-chairman of Dancing with the King, wants the event to make dance accessible for everyone.

“We want everyone to be able to dance so we try to take the barriers down,” she said. “In most studios, it’s very expensive. We wanted to create an event that people who were interested in and had started dancing in the various youth programs could come out and do everything anyone can do that usually costs $3,000.”

The Dance Studio brought in professional dancers Jim and Jenell Maranto to teach tango and waltz workshops for scholarship recipients. Since the studio began working with the dance duo 10 years ago, their dances have improved exponentially.

“It makes so much difference,” Harden said. “We have wonderful pros at our studio, but they are just as excited as the students when they come in because they want to get better, too.”

The scholarship recipients had to complete an essay on how they think the scholarship would enhance their dancing abilities. Harden said the recipients talked of their excitement to work with the Marantos.

Harden, along with her co-chairman Charlise Latour, added the music of Elvis to help the younger generation appreciate his music.

“We think that most of the people who learned to dance, learned to dance to Elvis’s music,” she said. “Elvis started here, his music started here and his music started dancing swing and a more energetic dancing. That was inspired by his music, and we don’t want to lose that.”

In the next three years, Harden wants to see the event quadruple or better.

She shares a vision with the other organizers to have international dancers compete.

“Last year, we had 20 show dances, and this year we have 34. Last year, we had 22 scholarships to the youth, and this year, we have 80 scholarships,” Harden said.

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com

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