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Dancing with the King finds new voice in festival’s 6th year

March 22, 2019

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — A local festival that honors the music and impact of Elvis Presley is stretching its legs.

Dancing with the King, now in its sixth year of service to Northeast Mississippi, raising money for dance education scholarships, is adding a singing element to its lineup.

“I want us to continue to find new ways to honor Elvis’ legacy,” said Rubye Del Harden, one of the festival’s organizers. “Not only did he change music in the U.S. and in the world, he started a completely new trend which led to new opportunities for people in music and in dance. We didn’t really have swing dancing until we had rock ‘n’ roll. He started so much. It’s very good for Tupelo to find more and more ways to celebrate him.”

With that, Harden and her twinkle-toe cohorts have been focused on the multi-faceted event to introduce younger ages to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the arts in general.

“We want to expose younger people to Elvis’ music,” she said. “These young folks, very often, have not really listened to Elvis. The variety and library of his tunes is amazing. So by participating, the young folks have the opportunity to explore his legacy and his music.”

Contestants on the dance side of the festival choose an Elvis song to perform to while those on the vocal part of the competition choose an Elvis song — one of more than 700 he recorded — to perform.

“We want to give the young people the opportunity to experience a dance weekend that is full of everything that ballroom dance has to offer,” Harden said. “We have show dance competitions, we have ballroom dance competitions. They get to see professional dancers perform, they get to dance themselves and compete, or just watch and enjoy.

“What a lot of people probably don’t know is that ballroom dancing competitions are generally very, very expensive but due to the generosity of the people in Tupelo that sponsor the event, we’re able to provide scholarships for youth to come to the event without it costing them an arm and a leg. They’re able to do something that otherwise they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do.”

Guests attending last year’s weekend event hailed from seven different states. Harden hopes to see that number expand this year and beyond with the new elements of the festival.

“It also promotes Tupelo tourism,” she said.

The singing side of the festival opened the door for first- through 12th-grade students to submit a tape of a performance. Independent judges chose 25 for four categories including younger grade students, junior high, high school and singer-songwriter.

Both sides of the festival go toward the scholarship goal for students to continue their vocal or dance education.

“I’m a former band director,” Harden said, “and I understand the importance it is for young people to be involved in the arts. It gives people the chance to work on something that is healthy and good for them. It gives them goals and you find people to socially interact with. I believe it forms relationships and friendships for the rest of your life.

I’ve seen kids come in that are painfully shy or don’t have a lot of confidence and when they start dancing, they stand up taller. It’s just a great environment for kids to grow up. It teaches a lot more than just music and dance. I’ve seen the positive changes and that’s what it’s all about to me.”

Whether you’re performing or just attending, Dancing (and Singing) with the King offers a little something for everyone in Tupelo and beyond — whether you’re a fan of music, choreography or just Elvis Presley.

Weekend packages and spectator tickets are available for all weekend events, including an old-fashioned sock-hop, historic tours of Elvis’ Tupelo, talent search and gala event.

The weekend is presented by the Tupelo Elvis Fan Club.

For more information, visit dancingwiththeking.com. For additional information on Singing With the King, visit link-centre.org.

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