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Positively Milwaukee: Dance program leader finds new beginnings after saying goodbye

Posted at 10:13 AM, Oct 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-19 11:13:01-04

MILWAUKEE — The leader of a local dance program recently retired, and her impact is Positively Milwaukee.

"Oh, for heaven's sakes, that's just wrong!"

That reaction from Deborah Farris comes after being told that one of her fans called her an angel.

Farris recently retired from leading the Mad Hot Ballroom Dance program for 18 years. Danceworks program is a giant hit for students. The program has given thousands of MPS students the experience of ballroom dancing and competition.

It's based on the movie "Mad Hot Ballroom."

"I think what dance does is as any creative form connects you to that person within you that unique valuable person that the world needs, explains Farris."

Farris shared a story when Mad Hot founder Mario Constantini went up to a young man dancing with his face to the sky.

Mario said "You dance well but can you tell us why you keep looking up, He shared that his mom had been shot and he was dancing for her."

Farris recalls, "That spirit and you would never see. A brighter face a face that was resplendent with more joy. That young man that had been through that great trauma and loss. But dance with him is so powerful! It's those experiences that have shaped 30,000 students in the last 15 years."

Farris says her job was made better by an incredible staff.

"The incredible tenacity of our teaching artists and the love that they had for the students that they taught. They would say to me that they always got much more from their students than they could ever possibly give to them."

Farris explains, "It's just an example of the beauty and richness in the lives of every individual within our community."

Farris originally dreamed of being an actress. She got a degree in voice and theater, even moved to New York.

"I would say, God, use me in spite of myself. I had never planned to lead an organization, I never even planned to dance, I was going to be an actress."

But Milwaukee her faith and dance stay close to her heart.

"It’s about that inner movement within us the beauty within us that God can stir and mold and shape.”

Farris is also an author, she began writing after the sudden death of her 54 year old brother.

"I started writing about a decade ago and after my brother died. "It became my dance within. He was just so valuable to his community and didn't smoke didn't drink didn't eat red meat didn't eat sugar, and he had a heart attack. He had a heart attack..He was 54! He had just had his stress test and they had missed the blockage in his heart."

Her book “Conversations With Dad, Stories of Love, Family, and Architecture,” pays tribute to her beloved father.

One of her proudest moments was seeing her parents in the audience at a Mad Hot competition.

"I remember a competition where mom had her cancer and she was there with her head, wrapped. They were watching the competition and just loving it. I think that that was one of my happiest moments that I could do something to make them proud."

But now Farris is starting a new chapter in her life more writing, and even return to acting.

"I was in a movie, and that's going to be coming out on Thanksgiving! Who would have thought I'd be in a movie, you know, at 65," she laughs.

And for those who believe they're too old for something new, Farris has a message.

"I'd say cut it out now. Stop it," she said. "We each have a unique gift to share in this world and it is needed now, so get over yourself and get on with it.”

Mad Hot will continue virtually because of the pandemic and they plans to expand dance options.

Debra Farris is convinced Mad Hot will keep winning over hearts young and old.

Deborah Farris has left her mark while eloquently reminding us of the dance within.

"If I listen to the whisper that says. Let me follow. So here, 18 years of leading an organization has taught me how to follow. And that's what I hope to continue to do that. Surrender moment by moment into God's love, into his plan, into his purpose for my life and for the world around me."

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