Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct time of the dance and how much has been raised by 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 8.
Ridgefield High School students will have another chance to “shake it off” and help benefit Parkinson’s research at a school dance that runs from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10.
The dance, Shake Your Heart Out, is the brainchild of 17-year-old resident Zoe Butchen. The RHS senior started an organization called Dance Shake Donate in 2014 when her father, Jeff Butchen, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
“It’s something that’s really close to my heart,” Zoe told The Press. “My dad said, ‘I never really thought I’d be the poster child for Parkinson’s.’ I think he’s really appreciative of everything I’m doing to try and help.”
Her biggest roadblock in organizing this year’s fund-raiser has been midterm exams. With only so many hours in the day to study, getting students to sign up for Shake Your Heart Out has been a challenge.
Zoe and 15 other RHS students are working to promote the event by putting up posters in the school’s hallway, as well as convincing friends and students to attend.
Because of school policies, the dance is restricted to current RHS students. Decorations will lean into the Valentine’s Day theme — lots and pink and red.
While there’s no formal dress code, Zoe asked that everyone wear the event’s T-shirt when they come in. There will be a station for T-shirt painting as well, she added, with a live DJ.
“We’re going to have a big poster at the event that says, ‘I dance for …’ and then there will be sticky notes, so you can write the name of someone who has Parkinson’s — or somebody that’s at the event that you think is doing a great job of dancing,” Zoe added.
All proceeds raised at the dance will go to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, a nonprofit founded by the film star to help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease.
RHS senior class President Kunal Chauhan, who sits on a committee formed by Butchen for Dance Shake Donate, brought up the dance during his report to the Board of Education on Jan. 22. Chauhan said he hopes the dance will become an annual event.
As of Thursday, Feb. 8, the event had raised $5,140.
“I think people think that they have a lot of time, but since it’s almost the beginning of February, we really want to push,” Zoe said.
Admission is a minimum donation of $20, which includes a shirt. Tiger Sports on Catoonah Street, one of the 13 local businesses sponsoring the event, will be making the shirts. Planet Pizza will be donating food, and will have its name displayed on the back of shirts.
Jeff Butchen was diagnosed with Parkinson’s after a doctor noticed a slight tremor during an exam in 2014.
“He started going to all these different doctors and the diagnosis was the same,” Zoe said. “So that took a toll at a very unexpected time.”
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease — as of yet, there is no known cure — which gradually affects a person’s movement. Those affected usually experience tremors, or stiffness and slowness of moving, as well as cognitive disabilities and depression, in some cases.
Zoe said her dad is doing OK. She helps where she can — sometimes she’ll put a weight on her dad’s hand to help with the tremors while he sleeps.
Butchen isn’t sure what will come next. She said she hopes the dance will continue as an annual event after she graduates in May.
“Student government has always been interested in doing some sort of charity, or community service event,” she said. “We’ve tried in the past, and it hasn’t necessarily worked, but hopefully if we get a lot of momentum this year, we can use it as a platform.”
Students may sign up to attend at the Shake Your Heart Out page on the Michael J. Fox Foundation’s website.
Community members who want to support Butchen’s fund-raising efforts may also donate directly to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.