CHICAGO (CBS) – It's not yet Halloween, but some people are already thinking about Christmas, like one group of young dancers who practice day in and day out.
The Coal City troupe caught the attention of a company that hired the kids for a giant holiday light show in Tinley Park last year. CBS 2's Lauren Victory explained why their big break may be a big bust.
The On Broadway Dancers leapt and twirled and didn't miss a beat, or an opportunity to showcase their talents.
Director Kim Scerine makes sure of it.
"We are 70 miles south of Chicago, so, clearly, performing arts isn't readily available when we started," Scerine said.
It's also about exposure, which the dancers ranging in age from 10 to 18 have gotten a lot of. The nonprofit group has performed overseas several times.
"Showing them that there was a world out there and there were things that they could do and they just had to take chances," Scerine said.
Scerine took a chance when she signed a contract for the Amaze Light Show in Tinley Park. She agreed to nearly two months of nightly performances in exchange for almost $100,000.
It was part of a spectacle so big that, "You could see this thing from space!" as CBS 2's Kris Habermehl described the 4,000 square-foot display in one Friday Flyover segment last November.
Victory: "Can you put in perspective for me how big of a deal this was when it was first proposed to you?"
Scerine: "So the dancers were going to be paid, so that was giving them kind of exposure as a professional, preprofessional."
Scerine said her dancers dazzled crowds at least three times every night. They had a blast, but smiles faded after the lights turned off for the season.
"I didn't get nervous for about 10 days," Scerine said. "Then it hit me that something's wrong."
The Coal City dancers' final payment, nearly $50,000, was past due. Scerine repeatedly questioned the company that put on the Amaze Light Show, Artistic Holiday Designs.
"It's very, very simple," she said. "We signed a contract. We were there. We did our job. They need to be paid."
A person from the company wrote Scerine on Feb. 20: "We did not meet our expectations or projections for sales."
"We lost several millions invested and are working on recovering now," the person added.
Similar emails went to the Village of Tinley Park. A spokesperson said Artistic Holiday Designs still hasn't paid $70,000 for festival security provided by Tinley Park police.
The Amaze Light show was prematurely shut down, said a lawyer for Odyssey Fun World -- where the event took place. He claimed organizers owe his clients several hundred thousand dollars.
Smaller vendors like F-5D, which made the banner behind the stage, told CBS 2 the invoice for almost $2,000 keeps getting ignored.
"There was one point where I did say to them that your poor planning should not be my responsibility to bear," Scerine said.
The owner of Artistic Holiday Designs didn't agree to an on-camera interview, but he also didn't shy away from admitting failure and saying he accepts full responsibility.
"We are going to honor and prioritize our obligations and debts," he wrote in a statement.
The company primarily rents and sells holiday light displays to over 40 cities. The owner claimed he's "already contracted enough sales to fully pay any debts owed for 2023 and beyond."
But making a small nonprofit wait almost a year for $50,000?
"It's such a slap in the face that you really put your heart into it," Scerine said.
The damage was done, Scerine said.
The on-Broadway dancers will always be practicing for something, but any trips overseas were out of the question this year because of the gaping hole in their budget.
Artistic Holiday Designs is fighting several lawsuits, including one against Odyssey Fun World in Tinley Park. The light show producer said the venue is wrongfully holding onto his equipment.
Again, the owner of Artistic Holiday Designs promised to make everyone from last holiday season whole by the end of this upcoming holiday season.
After CBS2 reached out, Artistic Holiday Designs sent the On Broadway Dancers $5,000 out of the nearly $50,000 owed. The company continues to promise the non-profit will eventually be paid in full.
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