Rowan V.P. hustles for students

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Mike Harris competes in Gloucester County’s Dancing with the Stars

OK, so Mike Harris isn’t a Fred Astaire or a Mikhail Baryshnikov or a Justin Timberlake even.

Yes, Rowan’s vice president of Facilities and Operations did a credible job on a swing-like dance to the tune of  “More” by Frank Sinatra and Count Basie with his wife, Melanie, at their wedding reception.

And yes, his three-year old, Macey, is pretty impressed when Daddy takes a turn with her around the living room floor on a Saturday morning.

But, Harris admitted, he is no dancer.

That hasn’t stopped him from entering the Gloucester County Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) competition sponsored by the Greater Woodbury Chamber of Commerce.
(Check out http://www.youtube.com/rowanuniversity.)

Helping students

He’s doing it for a good reason: Harris is competing in the sixth annual charity event to raise money for the Rowan Emergency Scholarship Fund, which assists students who are experiencing life-altering crises in their families. Every year, the Fund makes a difference in some Rowan students’ lives.

“Rowan had been approached before, but no one volunteered to put themselves out there,” Harris said. “I was approached about it, and initially I politely declined because this is way outside my comfort zone.”

Then he attended a meeting in May with staff from University Advancement and Alumni Relations and with the DWTS coordinator. “By the time we were done with that conversation about what it was going to benefit, I thought I had no option but to do it,” said the Philadelphia resident, who also is father to Lauren, 13, and Jack, 3 months.

Harris is partnered with Liz Deal from LaPierre Ballroom Dance Studio, Glassboro. Before teaming with Deal, Harris joined the rest of the contestants to take seven group lessons at Dances with Diane in Woodbury during May and June.

“We got to see where all of the dancers were, and we were all kind of starting at the same place. I don’t think anybody was better or worse really. It made it comfortable, and it reassured us it’s a friendly competition and for the purpose of raising funds for charities,” noted the 47-year-old, who at 6’3” and 215 pounds looks at home in dance attire.

Practice, practice, practice

As of July, Harris and Deal have been practicing one hour a night for two nights a week at LaPierre, which is housed at the Academy of Performing Arts in Glassboro. Together, they are tackling the hustle, West Coast swing, waltz and pasodoble.

“None of them were really in my repertoire. The person who is most surprised by this is my wife, who’s checking to see if I’ve improved since our wedding dance,” Harris laughed, adding his oldest daughter also was impressed. “My 13-year-old was afraid I was going to embarrass her, but she said it was not as bad as she thought.”

“It’s not the dancing itself,” Harris said, “it’s the dancing in front of people that’s the unnerving part. But, I hope I have a good sense of humor and willingness to try new things. I’m putting it all in perspective and trying to have fun with it.”

“Students are my motivation to do this,” he added. “I wouldn’t actually be doing this or taking the dance lessons for myself. I feel like I’m doing my part to help students who are in hardship situations to allow them to be able to get some assistance so they aren’t forced to make decisions about dropping out.”

You can help

Harris hopes the Rowan community and friends of the University support his effort.

There are many ways to do that:
•    Visit www/rowan.edu/DWTS for complete information and updates.
•    Come to the Landmark Americana (Rt. 322, just off the Glassboro campus) on Monday, Aug. 29, and Wednesday, Sept. 7. Bring the flyer from the Rowan DWTS website, and the Landmark will donate 25 percent of your food and beverage bill to the cause. (The Landmark Americana at 3333 Market Street, Philadelphia, makes the same offer for Thursday, Sept. 8.)
•    Buy an “I Like Mike” button for $5 at Barnes & Noble, Rowan Boulevard, Glassboro, or at Rowan at Shpeen Hall (see Kathy Rozanski, or contact her at 856/256-5405 or rozanski@rowan.edu) or at Linden Hall (second floor) (see Lydia Lopez, or contact her at 856/256-4781 or lopez@rowan.edu). Supporters also may purchase buttons in the Student Center during "I Like Mike Week," Sept. 18 to 24.
•    Attend the competitions. Tickets for the preliminary competitions are free and for the finale are $50. All are available on a first-come, first-served basis from Rozanski (contact information above).The preliminary competitions are slated for Tuesday, Aug. 30, and Wednesday, Aug.31, at 7 p.m. at Auletto Caterers, 1849 Cooper Street, Almonesson (Deptford Township). The finale, which includes dinner, is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 29, also at Auletto's. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Dinner is 5:30 to 6:50 p.m. The finale starts at 7 p.m. The event will air on Comcast.
•    Donate directly online at http://giving.rufoundation.org.