Dance fundraiser honors mother who died from breast cancer
By Misti Crane
Brooke Hull made other people’s lives better yesterday.
She raised thousands of dollars for women she’s never met.
She called anxious and energetic young dancers “sweetheart” and “honey” as she guided them through backstage chaos, fixing wayward headpieces and offering compliments to those who performed.
She made her father proud.
And she smiled — a big, real smile, the kind you see in the eyes. She smiled through tears that came and went and through memories of the woman who taught her to be the woman she is — the kind who finds great joy helping others even while navigating the most profound grief she’s known.
Hull owns the Judy Dollenmayer Studio of Dance in Gahanna. When she was a kid, a student dancer herself, she vowed that if she was fortunate enough to run her own studio, she would strive to build the dancers up, to remind them that winning competitions isn’t all this world is about.
Hull dreamed up “Dancing for Life” after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago. Proceeds from the fundraiser go to the Mount Carmel Foundation’s Women’s Health Fund, which provides support to breast cancer patients and free mammograms to those in need.
This year’s event, held at Gahanna Lincoln High School, was the third “Dancing for Life” and the first without Stoughton, who was 61 when she died of the disease in October.
“Dancing for Life” raised $22,000 in its first two years, and Hull expects yesterday’s tally to far exceed last year’s $12,000. Students raise money through selling sponsorships and ads. T-shirt and ticket sales and proceeds from a silent auction also benefit the fund.
Stoughton was a nurse, the kind who seemed born for it. She was always worrying about others. In her final days in a hospital in Mansfield, she reminded Hull to send gift baskets to the nurses who cared for her, to call and thank friends who’d been supportive.
“She was the biggest optimist I knew,” Hull said. “I’ve never met anybody who was so strong and so positive.”
When she’d call her mom with work concerns, when she was worn out or had a bad week, Stoughton would remind her that she was doing what she loves. In these past few months, those words have proved as true as ever.
The students have given her strength, she said, as has dance.
“It’s my therapy, absolutely,” Hull said.
Stoughton, who never cared for the spotlight herself, cheered her adult daughter in the same way she cheered her as a child dancer: “Do your best, and whatever happens, you’ll be happy with the result. Don’t have regrets.”
Stoughton was a woman who kept working while she went through chemotherapy, who insisted that Hull keep her wedding date even though it was right after the last radiation treatment.
For Hull, today was about finding a place for beauty and goodness amid heartache.
“I’ve had anger, guilt, all the usual things. In the end, I think what’s gotten me through it is how lucky I am that for 33 years of my life, I think I had the best mother in the whole world,” she said.
It was a time to embrace her mother’s theory, that her illness was an opportunity to help many other women.
“These are the things that will keep her alive in my heart,” Hull said.
In a dance to honor both of their mothers, Hull and teacher Megan Smith floated across the stage to an instrumental song called When I’m Gone.
Smith’s mother, Denette, had breast cancer and is doing well.
After a talk from Deana Hart, a Galloway woman who learned she had breast cancer last year, and after dancers delivered pink carnations to members of the audience who have had cancer, Hull drew the curtains and gathered her dancers.
“You are amazing! I’m super proud of you all!” she said.
Then she made her way out into the school’s lobby, hauling a tote full of costumes.
From across the way came the sound of a man barking. Hull laughed, put down the tote, and went to her father. She pulled him close.
Tom Houghton’s been doing his bark-cheer for Hull since she was one of the excited little dancer girls in a bun, dark makeup and sparkly polyester.
Mr. Houghton’s been to nearly all of his daughter’s performances from the time she was 3 years old. This one, he said, about broke his heart.
“I was never so proud of my daughter my whole life,” he said.