Donning overalls, a red shirt, a red cap and a black mustache, Kevin Ude portrayed popular video game character Mario.
Wearing a pink tutu dress and white leather arm gloves, Heather Kasting resembled Princess Peach Toadstool, the princess regnant and ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom in the game.
From a dance with recognizable sounds from the game to rolling out on carts like they were in the video game Mario Kart, Ude and Kasting powered up the votes while competing in the ninth annual Dancing with the Seymour Stars on Saturday at Celebrations in Seymour.
Through their fundraising efforts leading up to that day and then more money coming in from the two performances, they wound up raising the most of the eight dancing duos.
At the end of Saturday night’s show, emcee Curt Nichols announced Ude and Kasting as the first-place finishers.
“I was literally speechless. I just yelled. I didn’t know what else to do,” Kasting said, smiling.
“They announced who finished second, and I looked at her and I said, ‘Heather, I think we won,’” Ude said. “She goes, ‘No way. We didn’t.’”
While talking to the other contestants Saturday, Kasting said she didn’t think she and Ude had raised enough money.
“It surprised us both,” Ude said of being the top moneymakers.
“I will say that everybody back there, every single person that I talked to behind the stage was ‘It doesn’t matter how much we raise. We’ve raised enough money for these two wonderful organizations. If we win, great, but if not, we had fun doing it,’” Kasting said, as the money will be split between the Boys and Girls Club of Seymour and Seymour Main Street. “We raised a tremendous amount of money.”
Nichols said the fundraising total was around $102,000, bringing the nine-year total to $955,000.
Going into Saturday, Ude said he and Kasting had exceeded their goal of $10,000.
“So the fact that we heard $102,000 was awesome,” he said. “We had heard the best year ever was just over $100,000, and the fact that we went over $100,000 at all was amazing.”
The runners-up were Andrew Murphy and Andy Wolka, who did a re-creation of the popular “Chippendales Audition” skit on “Saturday Night Live” in 1990 featuring actor Patrick Swayze and comedian Chris Farley.
Coming in third place were J.T. and Lizz Patterson, who wore bright-colored outfits while they danced to a variety of classic 1990s tunes.
Kasting also participated in the eighth annual competition that was moved to the beginning of this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her performance with Aaron Frey was videotaped and played during the shows.
After that, she was asked if she would like to come back this year and dance live.
“They said, ‘You will be on that stage, Heather,’ so I said, ‘Kevin, you’re my partner,’ and he didn’t back down,” Kasting said of her co-worker at Beatty Insurance in Seymour, where she is a commercial insurance customer service representative and he is an agent.
“Heather is awesome. We’re friends outside of work. She’s a great employee of Beatty Insurance,” Ude said of why he agreed to be her dancing partner.
Then they had to figure out what to do for their performance.
“I just started googling, honestly, and I found a dance of Mario on YouTube from ‘Dancing with the Stars,’” Kasting said of the popular television show that pairs celebrities with professional dancers.
“Sadie Robertson did it as one of the finale dances,” Ude said.
Kasting sent the video to their choreographer, Lauren Frey.
“I said, ‘This is what we want to do,’ and she dumbed it down a little bit because we’re not professional dancers,” Kasting said. “Then we added the scooters for an extra fun part.”
Ude said they added the Mario Kart element because the dance needed to be longer.
“I made the music, mixed the music myself based on what (Robertson and her partner, Mark Ballas) had done just by a bunch of Google searches finding all of the audio and stuff, and then we needed to add some time, so we thought, ‘Mario Kart would be fun,’” he said.
Once or twice a week, they met up to practice.
“We practiced on Saturday mornings mostly when I could bring one of my kids over to her house, and our kids would play and hang out, and we danced in her garage,” Ude said.
“And scooted around in the garage,” Kasting said of practicing the Mario Kart portion.
The week of the performances, they practiced more to make sure it was good, and they even practiced backstage before they went onstage Saturday.
“I’ll be honest, on the stage, it was like we had done it a thousand times,” Ude said. “The matinee was kind of a warmup, and we made a mistake or two in the matinee, and I don’t feel like we made a mistake in this final performance.”
Kasting said she was really disappointed earlier this year not being able to be onstage, so being in front of a crowd Saturday was amazing.
“It made all of the hard work and all of the fundraising so worth it. It really did,” she said.
One successful fundraiser they did was “You’ve been flocked,” where a person could pay $50 to have a flock of plastic flamingos placed in someone’s yard. Ude said that brought in more than $500.
“She came to me with an idea, and we had been figuring out how could we fund raise this different,” he said. “Rather than call people and asking them for their money, it was something fun that got people to engage, and it did kind of a chain reaction type of thing.”
They appreciated people’s support for that fundraiser and all of the other donations they received because the money goes to two nonprofit organizations.
“I have a heart for children. The Boys and Girls Club is huge, and I taught at (Margaret R.) Brown (Elementary School) for six years, and those kids really need the support within our community,” Kasting said. “Seymour Main Street, they make our downtown thrive, so I think that raising money for these two organizations is absolutely phenomenal.”
Ude lauded Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Ryon Wheeler and Seymour Main Street Executive Director Bri Roll.
“Ryon is phenomenal, and Bri is phenomenal. They are awesome,” he said. “Our Main Street has really taken off, and for us working really close to downtown, seeing the downtown grow is what we want to see. And with Ryon, John Beatty has been a Boys and Girls Club board member for 40 years, so we know that he supports Ryon, we’re going to support Ryon.”
Ude and Kasting also appreciate the support of their employer, which had four tables at Saturday night’s performance.
“Just having the support of people that care about this community and want to support us on top of it, it means a lot. It really does,” Kasting said.
“The main reason I came back home to work at Beatty Insurance was not because it was back in my hometown or anything like that,” Ude said. “It was because when I sat in on the interview, they said, ‘We want you to be community-focused. We will support anything that you want to do philanthropically, if you want to join a board or you want to do a fundraising activity.’ … They let us get into what we want to get into.”