By Mary Thurwachter
Steven E. Bernstein conquered the corporate world a few decades ago. The company he started in 1989 — SBA Communications Corp. — owns and leases communications towers to the cellular and wireless industry.
SBA went public in 1999 at $9 per share on Nasdaq. Today, the company owns more than 30,000 towers in 12 countries, has more than 1,000 employees, boasts revenues approaching $2 billion and has a stock price of about $240 per share.
But how will this savvy Highland Beach businessman — chairman of the board at SBA — fare on the dance floor Sept. 26 as one of eight contestants in the Ballroom Battle, a spinoff of Dancing With the Stars that raises money for the George Snow Scholarship Fund? The evening pits eight local dancers and their professional partners against each other for the Mirror Ball trophy, awarded to the top male and female fundraisers.
“I can’t dance, have no rhythm and I’m not fond of dancing,” the exec admits. “But I’m always up for a challenge and a good cause and I’m dedicated to nailing it.”
To that end, Bernstein, 59, rehearses three times a week at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Boca Raton with his professional dance partner, Sayra Vazquez-Brann.
He is making strides, he says, but it’s not easy.
“I find it more of a mental workout than a physical workout because learning the steps and learning the routine and then improving that just takes time,” he says. “And when you’re not a natural at it, it just seems to take longer. But my instructor is great, and we are breaking it up into pieces and we’ve gone through the routine. Now we’re cleaning it up — meaning having the proper embellishments, the proper hand moves, the proper facial moves.”
This year, because of the pandemic, dancers are training while wearing masks.
“When you’re dancing and moving and breathing heavy and doing it with a mask on it adds another element,” Bernstein says.
Unlike previous years, the event will not be held at the Boca Resort ballroom. Instead, it will be televised live at 7 p.m. Sept. 26 from the WPTV-TV studios, with viewers calling in pledges for their favorite dancers.
Last year’s dance-off raised $650,000.
The whole process has given Bernstein, who was born in New York, a new respect for dancers. Tennis or golf is more his style.
“Being a dancer is one heck of a sport,” he says. “You’re an athlete if you’re a dancer, but it’s so underrated. There’s a lot of work to dance. My hat’s off to anybody who does dance as a profession.”
Dancing is only part of what it takes to win the Ballroom Battle. The other is fundraising, something Bernstein finds much less arduous. By the end of July, he had already collected more than $70,000 in pledges. His goal is $100,000 — and he intends to match every dollar he raises, so if he meets his goal, he’ll have amassed an impressive — perhaps record-breaking — $200,000.
He doesn’t really care about winning, he insists, but he does care about giving back to the community, especially children. His foundation, the Steven E. Bernstein Family Foundation, has been the most rewarding part of his journey, he says. He and his daughter Abby run it.
“The philosophy of the foundation is not to just give money where it is needed, but to give of your time,” Bernstein says. The foundation has donated to many nonprofit organizations, and Bernstein sits, or has sat, on the boards of several local charities.
Bernstein, who is single, received his bachelor of science degree in business administration with a major in real estate at the University of Florida and has served as an adjunct professor at Lynn University.
The other dancers are Boca Raton attorney Robin Bresky, Dr. Gwenesia S. Collins from Boca Raton Regional Hospital, William Donnell of NCCI, Tara Lucier of integrated supply chain company Inspirage, Kirsten Stanley of Tammy Fender Holistic Skin Care, Kyle Stewart of Wells Fargo and Ross O’Connor, a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley.
What: Eight community leaders compete in a ballroom dance competition paired with professional dancers from Fred Astaire Dance Studios.
When: 7 p.m. Sept. 26
Where: Broadcast on WPTV Ch. 5 and livestreamed on WPTV and George Snow Scholarship Fund websites.
Donations: To financially support to your favorite dancer or purchase raffle tickets, visit scholarship.org/ballroom-battle/
Info: 561-347-6799 or scholarship.org/ballroom-battle/