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Dancers taking swing at cancer

Surrey dance club benefits founder’s fundraising efforts
Shannon Witt is trying to raise money for cancer research through the dance group she founded

Shannon Witt was on a mailing list for a swing dancing club for three years before she gathered the courage to attend one of the dances.

Despite being interested in the social interaction and excitement of swing, Witt said she had two left feet – and another problem.

“I was too shy.”

While a beginners lesson offered before the open-floor event was helpful, Witt said learning the high-energy, fluid movements proved challenging, to say the least.

“It was really frustrating,” she said. “I couldn’t get the rhythm, I couldn’t figure out the footwork.”

But she stuck with it, and her perseverance paid off.

Two years later, Witt isn’t just a regular dancer but also the founder of an entirely new Surrey club, Swinging at the Sullivan.

The Langley resident started the local group when the weekly dances she had been attending dropped to just once a month. Other events are held in venues well outside her community, in Abbotsford, New Westminster, Vancouver and Blaine, Wash., she noted.

“I wanted more opportunity to dance.”

But a more frequent and convenient dance alternative wasn’t Witt’s only reason for starting the club – she also wanted to raise money for cancer. In 2005, a year after losing her mother to the disease, Witt became involved with the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, which sees team members take turns walking or running around a track for 12 or more hours to raise money for cancer research, services and prevention. As rewarding as it was, Witt yearned for more.

“I was looking for something more challenging,” she said. “I knew I could do the fundraising but I wanted to push myself more.”

She started training for a triathlon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada’s Team in Training program, in which participants raise money for the society in order to train and compete in athletic events ranging from marathons to 100-mile bike rides.

“You go right from nothing to being able to finish the event successfully,” said Witt, a therapeutic horseback riding instructor who admits she wasn’t much of a runner beforehand.

Encouraged by finishing in the middle of the pack during her first triathlon, she participated again last year.

“It was really, really rewarding,” she said. “It was really rewarding to… be a part of something that big.”

This year was her third season with Team in Training – she ran the Lavaman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii April 3 – and she aims to reach her $6,000-fundraising goal by the May 3 deadline.

Witt said she has raised around $13,000 with Team in Training, and hopes to boost that number through Swinging at the Sullivan.

The group launched a year ago, and meets every second Thursday at Sullivan Hall, 6306 152 St.

Doors open at 7 p.m., with an hour-long beginners east coast swing lesson at 7:30 p.m., followed by social dancing.

Cost is $8 per person, or $5 for students and those who carpool.

Half of the year, funds benefit Witt’s cancer efforts, and the other half, money is donated to a school the club’s co-administrator founded eight years ago in Sri Lanka.

Witt said dancers range in age from 19 to 70.

“We’re a really, really friendly group,” she said. “Our first event, people said they hadn’t had that much fun dancing for years.”

Witt said there are about 20 regulars.

“I’d love to see it grow even more, to look out on the dance floor and see people laughing, having fun and the dance floor full.”

For more information on the club, call 604-671-1719, email or visit the Facebook page.