Event will benefit sick children

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On Dec.7, more than sugarplums will be dancing at Baldwin High School.

In true holiday spirit, students from Dance Workshop by Shari Inc., along with several local school choirs and musicians, will perform at the 10th Annual Gifts of Dance to benefit the Children's Hospital Free Care Fund.

"It's a true children-helping-children event," said Shari Opfermann, studio owner and founder of Dancing for a Difference, the nonprofit that is the driving force behind this and other fundraisers for local charities throughout the year. "This is a way kids use their talents to make a difference."

More than 100 dancers, ages 6 to 18, from Ms. Opfermann's Whitehall school will showcase their ballet, tap, lyrical and hip-hop moves to holiday music. One group will perform a lyrical dance to the song, "El Shaddai," sung by former dance student and Point Park theater major Maggie Brooks of Baldwin Borough.

"It's a great fundraiser, and I wanted to be a part of it," said Ms. Brooks, who remembered participating in the event as a high school choir member.

Ms. Opfermann stressed that the show is a community effort. Other performers include the Keystone Oaks and Baldwin dance teams and choirs from Whitehall Elementary School, Harrison Middle School and Baldwin High School, the St. Gabriel Elementary School Chorus and the Baldwin Community United Methodist Church Praise Kids Choir.

Last year's sellout show raised $7,000. Due to its popularity, a second matinee performance has been added this year.

"The Free Care Fund at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC helps to cover the cost of free and uncompensated care for children who need the care at Children's but are unable to afford the sometimes significant cost,'' said Andrea Kunicky, hospital media coordinator.

The Free Care Fund can also help cover the cost of enrolling in a clinical trial if all other treatment options have been exhausted. The fund ensures no child is turned away because of an inability to pay for treatment.

About 28,000 children received assistance from the fund in 2013.

A dancer since age 3, Ms. Opfermann, of Canonsburg, graduated from Upper St. Clair High School and attended Point Park University as a theater major. She said her enjoyment of teaching led her to open her own school 23 years ago. An award-winning choreographer, she is a member of Upper St. Clair High School's Hall of Fame for her contribution to the arts.

Five years ago, Ms. Opfermann established the Dancing for a Difference nonprofit.

Throughout its philanthropic history, the studio has raised more than $85,000 for charitable organizations such as the St. Jude Children's Hospital, Make-A-Wish Foundation and others.

Previously, the school has sponsored Susan G. Komen Zumba Fitness Party in Pink events and held 5K runs for local nonprofits. The studio's "Have a Heart" benefit shows in February have supported the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, the Women's Center & Shelter and other local nonprofits.

"There is eagerness and excitement to be involved," Ms. Opfermann said. Students volunteer to learn routines and perform in addition to their weekly classes and regularly scheduled competitions and spring recital.

Emily Lloyd, a junior at Upper St. Clair, has performed in the past three Gifts of Dance shows. She said she doesn't count the hours spent rehearsing and performing toward her high school's required volunteer hours.

"It's a great way to dance with a purpose and to start off the holidays," she said.

Fellow dancers and seven-year veterans of the event, Claire Kucerovy, 18, of Bethel Park and Hannah Newman, 17, of Upper Saint Clair, agreed.

"It's really special that everyone can come together to share something they love to do. It's a good feeling," Hannah said.

"It doesn't seem like we are even doing extra work," Claire said.

Ms. Opfermann said the students at her studio are getting more than a dance education.

"They become responsible adults, knowing that making a difference in their community is important," she said.

Gifts of Dance will be performed at 3 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $7. Details: 412-884-5099.

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