When Keith Hafner stepped on the dance floor at Arthur Murray Dance Studio Ann Arbor in October it was a new experience for Ann Arbor’s most popular and well-known Grandmaster Taekwondo ninth-degree black belt.
But it was far from the first time Hafner and his longtime and successful karate school has danced for charity. Helping the community has always been a big part of Hafner’s life so when he was asked to participate in Dancing with the Michigan Stars he was ready to do his part.
“Well, I don’t really know how I got involved,” Hafner says with a laugh. “Someone, who has remained anonymous, nominated me. Back at the end of September I got a call from Tansy Degen (owner of Arthur Murray Dance Studio Ann Arbor) and she asked me if I would be willing to do it and I took a big gulp and said yes.”
Dancing with the Michigan Stars has raised more than $400,000 over the past five years for mostly Washtenaw County-based charities and organizations. The sixth annual Dancing with the Michigan Stars is from 6 to 10 p.m. on Thursday, March 12 in the giant ballroom at the Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest at 1275 S. Huron St. in Ypsilanti.
Each of the 10 contestants not only compete against each other but dance for a charity of their choice.
Before we get into all the great work Hafner has done over the years with charities and community organizations and why it’s important to him, let’s step back on the dance floor where he admits to being a little nervous at first.
“I started taking lessons from Greta Van Doren in October,” says Hafner, who is learning to Tango under the direction of Van Doren, an instructor at Arthur Murray. “It’s been about once a week, sometimes more. I knew nothing about the Tango before I started doing this.”
Hafner says it’s not as complicated as it may sound because he’s in good hands once he steps out onto the dance floor.
“The teachers are so good that I really don’t know how difficult it is because they make it seem so easy,” Hafner says. “I think too my martial art’s background helps because we are really learning a pattern which I’ve been doing my whole life with martial arts.
Van Doren remembers that first lesson back in October.
“It went well,” she said. “We went over some fundamentals of dancing and talked about the different styles and it was pretty clear that the Tango would be a good fit for his personality. He’s pretty intense and took this seriously so it was just a great fit for him. And even though he’s a serious person we certainly had a lot of fun with the lessons.”
Van Doren agreed that Hafner’s background helped make for a much easier transition from the martial arts mat to the dance floor.
“He’s a very focused learner, which I am too, so it worked out well,” she said. “Just because he has a background in martial arts and in movement and is also a teacher himself, it made for a smoother process. He did such a great job.”
Hafner says he’s had a lot of fun learning how to Tango and is pleased with what he’s been able to accomplish.
“I didn’t know going in if it was going to be a total disaster or not,” he admits. “And it’s a public event so if I was really inept it wouldn’t be good for business. I was pleased that with the teacher’s help I was able to do it.”
And, the most important part of all, is that he’s been able to do it for charity. Hafner selected the Salvation Army of Washtenaw County for his charity. “I used to be on their board at one time and have always been pretty closely aligned with them and they do such great work,” Hafner said.
Keith Hafner’s Karate has long been aligned with helping the community. They have done a lot of work over the years for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and also organized a Thanksgiving Basket Brigade for years which at its peak was feeding Thanksgiving dinners to 500 local families.
“We just love Ann Arbor,” Hafner says about his charitable side. “We see ourselves as a small and purposeful army that has things we can do to help our community. There is a lot of need in the town, especially for families and young people, and we’ve always just taken that very seriously.”