Dancing for a Cause: Francesco Leri Salsas to Support Easter Seals
Dr. Francesco Leri, Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies for CSAHS, is stepping out of his comfort zone and onto the dance floor this October.
As a Psychology professor Leri is used to putting his students in the hot seat during exams, but this time it’s Leri’s turn to face scrutiny from a panel of judges in a Dancing with the Stars style competition to raise money for Easter Seals Ontario.
Just like in the TV show, being a celebrity competitor requires hard work and dedicated rehearsal to transform from someone with two left feet into a graceful ballroom dancer. To get ready for the big day on Friday, October 21, Leri has been spending hours each week learning salsa and bachata choreography with instructor Emily Peat of the Underdog Dance Studio in Waterloo.
“When I was approached to be a part of this event, I immediately jumped on the opportunity. Even though it’s been challenging—I don’t have dance experience and I’ve never done anything like this before—I see it as an opportunity for me as an able-bodied person to use my body in a way that breaks down barriers for the benefit of those who have physical disabilities,” said Leri.
The money Leri is raising for Easter Seals Ontario will go towards supporting children with physical disabilities. For the last 100 years, Easter Seals has enabled young people to reach their fullest potential by funding essential mobility and accessibility equipment, fully accessible summer camp experiences, special education resources, post-secondary scholarships and campaigns to raise awareness of disability issues.
“As I’ve seen my close friend transition to using a wheelchair, I’ve become more aware of the challenges and limitations faced by those who can’t afford mobility aids and conversely how mobility aids can dramatically improve access and quality of life” said Leri. “I hope that by participating in this event I can do my part to contribute to Easter Seals and help children access these aids and experience the joy of being a kid at summer camp.”
Those interested in supporting Leri and Easter Seals can donate online to vote for Leri to win the people's choice portion of the dancing competition or purchase a ticket to the Dancing with Easter Seals Stars event at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, October 21 at the Grand Banquet Hall in Guelph. At the event, Leri will compete against six other celebrity dancers who are prominent members of the Guelph community by performing two dances, a salsa and a bachata. The evening will also include a cocktail hour, dinner and live and silent auction in addition to the dance competition.
Learning the dances in preparation for the competition has been an interesting new challenge for Leri. Once of the first things he realized was that his previous experience does not translate over to dance. “I’m used to practicing karate, and in karate you learn to always move your feet first and your body follows. But I’m learning that with dance it’s the opposite—you move your body first and your feet follow underneath.” Leri has enjoyed this chance to develop a new set of skills and is considering continuing to learn how to dance after the event without the pressure of competition.