Columbia Association fitness instructor Robin Holliday said she experienced joy for the first time since losing her HorseSpirits Art Gallery in the Ellicott City flood nearly three weeks ago at a dance-for-donations party at Soccer Stop indoor soccer facility in Columbia.
Led by Michelle Valentine, an eight-year fitness instructor and friend of Holliday, hundreds of Howard County residents came out to learn or flaunt their skills of Latin American-style Zumba, LaBlast ballroom aerobics and cardio dance Wednesday evening.
Five other Columbia Association instructors and Girl Scouts from Bollman Bridge Elementary School, in Jessup, participated and collected donations, and Soccer Stop provided a discount on the rental fees for the group,
Together, the party raised nearly $2,500 in under two hours, including all proceeds from Kona Ice of Howard County, which served snow cones outside the facility. All funds were donated to Holliday to offset the gallery's lost and damaged art as well as the loss of its home on Main Street.
"When they told me they were doing this, all I could do was cry," Holliday said. "This was a blessing out of this situation to know that there are people who really care about us. Not only was it the loss of everything you've built, but financially, we're really worried."
Only two days after the flood, Holliday, 54, learned her flood insurance policy through PSA Insurance wasn't going to cover the gallery's damages, despite paying for $150,000 worth of coverage. Instead, she said the policy will only cover $2,500 for the entire business and its contents.
"We had about $450,000 of art in there," Holliday said about the gallery, which displayed the work of 44 different artists, including her own work and the word of her husband, Max Crownover. "Over the last two weeks, it's been a desperate attempt to try and get [the artwork] out of there, which we've been able to do. It's like on the edge of 'Are we going to make it or not?'"
Friends started a GoFundMe account for Holliday on Aug. 3, which had raised just over $14,000 out of a $200,000 goal as of Wednesday evening.
After 26 years of working in national security, the Columbia resident said she and Crownover chose to purse their dream of owning and operating an art gallery. The gallery – featuring paintings, jewelry, ceramics and sculpture – opened in Glenelg three years ago, then moved to Main Street where it was open for the past nine months.
With floodwaters up to her chest, Holliday said she risked her life to save her dream the night of the July 30 flood, holding the store's front door shut against the current for as long as possible.
"The water came out of nowhere," Holliday said, recalling cars slamming into storefronts across the street from her gallery. "I was in the water for about 20 to 25 minutes, then the front door glass shattered and I went upstairs. My natural reaction was to fight it, but there was a river going down in front of me and another river coming through the back of the store."
Hearing of Holliday's tragic experience triggered Valentine's desire to help her fellow instructor. Valentine said Holliday's own willingness to support and care for others was immediately noticeable, and her dedication to dance energetically refreshing.
If a last-minute emergency arose, Valentine said Holliday always volunteered to substitute for her classes, which vary in sizes from 100 to 150 members per session throughout the year.
Dance was the perfect way to raise money and give back.
"Dance brings everyone together. There's no age, race or ability. Anyone can come and do it," Valentine said. "I just feel that dance brings so many groups of people from so many walks of life together. It's great."
Shany Seawright, a 6-year member of Valentine's aerobics class, said Holliday previously taught her now 9-year-old daughter, Lily, in a kindergarten Zumba class at Columbia Association. Seawright is also her daughter's Girl Scout troop leader.
When Troop 10117 heard Holliday was in trouble, Seawright said they all jumped at the opportunity to help their friend, handing out dance party fliers in their neighborhoods, telling Holliday's story and collecting donations.
"The girls just transitioned to Juniors [earlier this month] and during this time, they're really supposed to take on their own leadership roles within the community," the Jessup resident said.
In between dances Wednesday night, Lily said she was happy to help out a friend in need, especially during such troubling times.
"We all like to dance a lot," the Girl Scout said. "I think this is really cool. I think it's going to be really helpful for Robin."
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"If everybody does something small, you can make a big change," Seawright added. "If you make a little effort to do something, as long as somebody else makes that little effort too, then you can make a big change."
Laurel resident Kelly Hase, another member of Valentine's fitness class, said she was happy to bring her two daughters, Keira, 9, and Maya, 7, to dance in support of Ellicott City.
"We'll do anything we can do to support," Hase said. "I think this is incredible. It's pretty great because they're bringing a whole bunch of people together for a great cause."
While the flood may have knocked her down, Holliday said she plans to find a temporary location for the artists before the holidays and, one day, return to Ellicott City when flood mitigation is more definitive.
The outpouring of support from the community brought Holliday to tears at Wednesday's dance party, but unlike the sadness she's felt in weeks past, these were tears of joy.
"If we don't raise a dime, that's OK," Holliday said. "What matters to me is how many people are coming out to let us know they care and understand and support us. That's really what this is about. For everybody who hugs me and says 'I'm sorry,' that's a blessing."
To contribute to Holliday's HorseSpirits Art Gallery GoFundMe page, go to www.gofundme.com/2hsvw3g.