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The purpose behind Dancing with Chicago Celebrities

The purpose behind Dancing with the Chicago Celebrities
The purpose behind Dancing with Chicago Celebrities 05:07

CHICAGO (CBS)-- Inside the Arthur Murray studio in River North, one can find subtle reminders of a deep purpose.

As the person responsible for bringing Arthur Murray Dance Studios to Chicago, Jill DeMarlo knew how to put on a great dance event. But it wasn't until years later, her mom, then a two-time breast cancer survivor, that the right move came to her.

"My mom was diagnosed at 41, she was young, and I remember thinking gosh, I don't know what to do, how to help," DeMarlo, founder of Arthur Murray Chicago and Dancing with Chicago Celebrities, said. "Dancing with the Stars on TV had just started, and there was this excitement about dancing, but people really didn't get to see it live. And we had an opportunity, and I was like, we should put this all together."

The result? Dancing with Chicago Celebrities is an annual competition that doubles as a fundraiser for breast cancer research and organizations. Now in its 18th year, DeMarlo says they've figured out the formula combining a celebrity dance-off with corporate stars and professional dancers.

"To celebrate the corporate stars as well as the media stars, when we started to do that, it created more staying power of people wanting to be a part of it," DeMarlo said. 

Nearly two decades in, the event doesn't just have staying power but is powerful for those involved.

"Roz Varon, when she did it, she was fighting, and she said, you know Jill, the only time I'm not thinking about cancer is when I'm dancing," DeMarlo said. 

A way to forget, at least for a moment. And for last year's corporate MVP, Tiffany Hodgin, dancing was a way to remember her dear friend Wendy Schuman.

"I grew up with her at the firm. We started together at Ernst and Young. She was one of those people that you instantly become friends with," Hodgin said. "First day on the job I just knew we were going to be best friends. She was like a fifth sister to me. In the summer of 2018, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She did her fight through breast cancer, and she had such a positive mentality throughout the whole process."

In April of 2019, Schuman, whom Hodgins describes as someone everyone loved, a wife and mother to two young boys, died from complications of treatment. She was 35 years old. 

"I remember saying to myself and others, I'm going to do it. I'm going to do this one day for her in her honor and use it as a platform to remember her and keep her memory alive," Hodgins said. 

Last year, she raised $115,000 for the cause and took to the floor - not for herself, for Wendy.

"That day, a different level of emotion just came over you. Especially when you're about to walk out onto the floor," Hodgins said. "When they announced me last, as the last corporate star, we had about 100 people there from Ernst and Young. They all stood up and went nuts and it was just an overwhelming moment because it was so fun, it was a great opportunity, it was a great way to give up. But it was also like, oh my gosh, look at this. Look what you did to really keep Wendy's memory alive because it was all for her."

The purpose is clear, and the light is anything but subtle. 

Over 18 years, more than $4 million has been raised for local breast cancer research groups and organizations, including the Silver Lining Foundation, which helps women in underserved communities get access to care. You can donate to the cause online. 

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