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Suneel's Light Foundation hosts 'Dancing with the Stars'-inspired charity event to raise funds for a Duchenne muscular dystrophy cure

by jmaloni
Wed, Jan 2nd 2013 04:00 pm

"Suneel's Celebrity Gala" will feature local celebrities competing against each other in various ballroom dance disciplines

The Suneel's Light Foundation, a local non-profit foundation with the sole mission of raising funds for research that will lead to the cure of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, while increasing public awareness of the genetic disease, is proud to announce the first "Suneel's Celebrity Gala." The inaugural "Dancing with the Stars"-inspired event will be held on Friday, Feb. 1, from 6 p.m. until midnight at the renovated Statler City. It will feature eight well-known local celebrities from across Western New York showcasing their dancing prowess.

Tickets for Suneel's Celebrity Gala are $175 per person or $325 a couple and are currently on sale.

Suneel's Light Foundation has challenged eight local celebrities to learn ballroom dance from professionals of Western New York's top dance studios and to strut their best dance moves in a competition on Feb. 1. Participants include Maryalice Demler, WGRZ-TV Channel 2 anchor; Diana Fairbanks, WIVB-TV Channel 4 anchor; Donna Fernandes, president and CEO, Buffalo Zoo; Joel Giambra, former Erie County executive and managing director of Park Strategies; Dave Jickster, radio personality on 97 Rock; Stephanie Mateczun, director of the Buffalo Jills and part-time host of "AM Buffalo" on WKBW-TV; Aaron Mentkowski, WKBW Channel 7 meteorologist; and Kevin Sylvester, Buffalo Sabres broadcaster. They all have accepted the challenge and are currently training as they vie for the coveted title of, "Suneel's Celebrity Gala Champion," and bragging rights around Western New York.

Each celebrity is teamed up with one of the local participating dance schools - Arthur Murray, Fred Astaire and Iacono Ballroom Center - along with a professional dancer from the school. Each pro has donated his or her service to teach each designated competitor a specific discipline of ballroom dance. Each celebrity will go through weekly dance and choreography lessons with the dancing professional.

The final competition of "Suneel's Celebrity Gala" will be judged by a combination of audience votes, online votes, and professional judges who will adhere to international dance scoring guidelines.

In efforts to engage the community, Suneel's Light Foundation has launched a new event specific website, suneelscelebritygala.com, featuring videos of all the stars receiving dancing lesions and chronicling their progress. Visitors to the website are encouraged to vote for their favorite celebrities leading up until the night of the gala. Each vote is $1, which allows all of Western New York and beyond to support their favorite celebrity, while bringing Suneel's Light Foundation one step closer to finding a cure for DMD.

The black-tie affair will not only consist of fabulous dancing and some friendly competition, but will include a gourmet sit-down dinner, top-shelf open bar and first-class auction items, including unique travel destinations, exquisite jewelry and one-of-a-kind items.

In addition to the main celebrity dance competition and gala, various ballroom dance workshops will be held at discounted rates for anyone who wants to take a lesson or two from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 2 at Statler City. The Arthur Murray, Fred Astaire and Iacono Ballroom Center will teach Latin, swing and tango with all proceeds donated to Suneel's Light Foundation. All specific lesson times and pricing can be found at suneelscelebritygala.com.

Tickets for the gala and workshops are available online at suneelscelebritygala.com.

For more information, email [email protected], call 716-856-9704 or visit www.Facebook.com/SuneelsLight.

Established in 2002 and making its 10-year anniversary, Suneel's Light is a charitable foundation whose namesake is a teenage boy from Amherst who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The foundation was established to fund critical research for treatments in search for a cure for DMD, the most lethal genetic childhood disease, which targets young boys without regard to ethnicity, and leads to premature death from respiratory or heart failure. Without a breakthrough in ongoing medical research and treatment, there is little hope that Suneel, and other children like him, will live to adulthood.

At present, more than 20,000 children in the U.S. suffer from this fatal disease, and more than 100,000 worldwide, with a statistically higher number of identified cases in Western New York than the national average. On average, these children succumb to this disease by their early 20s. Typically during their school-age years, in conjunction with all of the other problems surrounding this disease, they suffer from learning disabilities, social isolation and behavioral issues. 

Symptoms of DMD usually appear in male children before age 6 and may be visible in early infancy. Progressive muscle weakness of the legs and pelvis associated with a loss of muscle mass is observed first. Early signs may include pseudohypertrophy (enlargement of calf muscles), low endurance, and difficulties in standing unaided or inability to ascend stairs. By age 10, braces may be required to aide in walking, but most patients are wheelchair-dependent by age 12. Later symptoms may include abnormal bone development that leads to skeletal deformities, including curvature of the spine. Due to progressive deterioration of muscle, loss of movement occurs eventually leading to paralysis.

For more information about Suneel's Light or DMD, visit www.suneelslight.org or www.Facebook.com/suneelslight.

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