It's Give to the Max Day, and across Minnesota, inboxes have been inundated with pleas from nonprofits seeking end-of-the-year donations. For many arts groups, #GTMD16 leads to tweeting photos of kids cradling scaled-down violins, or Instagraming a young dancer who could be the next Misty Copeland. In an effort to avoid such heart-tugging clichés, St. Paul dance troupe Keane Sense of Rhythm created a promotional video about an imaginary student named Steve.
"This is Steve. Steve is a dinosaur," intones the sympathy-seeking voice of Megan Wind in a video making the rounds on Youtube and social media. In a style reminiscent of a This American Life essayist, Wind goes on to explain that Steve "has always dreamed of being a dancer, but he's always been lacking something." Arms that are too short for ballet, a head too big for breakdancing. The six-foot-four Tyrannosaurus rex attempts both disciplines -- and fails brilliantly -- before finally discovering tap and saving his self-esteem from extinction.
"I can't take any credit for it, except for saying, 'Yes, buy the costume,'" explained Ellen Keane, founder of the tap school and its touring youth ensemble. Wind is Keane Sense of Rhythm’s marketing intern, and it was her idea to parody the typical help-a-disadvantaged-kid plea. Once Wind discovered T-rex costumes were on sale for $30 at Target, Keane approved the campaign, and the University of Minnesota senior went to work scripting and filming the sketch, which features several teenage tap dancers portraying the down-on-his-luck dinosaur.
"It’s imaginary, but it deals with the real issues at hand," Keane said. "All sorts of obstacles can keep people from dancing."
Last year, more than 650 children had a chance to try tapping for free thanks to Keane Sense of Rhythm. The troupe's goal is to raise $10,000 in donations today, including a $4,950 match from board members. The money will provide scholarships for ensemble members, as well as fund school outreach programs.
Past Give to the Max campaigns have made it possible for Keane Sense of Rhythm to forego throwing a fancy gala, a mainstay funding source for most performing arts groups, but one that can become a giant time suck. Wind filmed her entire video in an hour, but Keane suspects this is more than a one-day gimmick: Steve will be making appearances at company events in the future. "We will just keep it going for as long as we can," she said.