From her day job to her personal passions, Tanya James is all about people. That includes stepping up to the plate — or in this case, the dance floor — when people need help.
Right now, it’s the Arkansas chapter of the Children’s Tumor Foundation that’s calling on James to show off her skills at the 16th annual Dancing With Our Stars, CTF’s signature event where locals compete for the coveted Mirror Ball Trophy. In its upcoming season, the Little Rock gala and its companion event in northwest Arkansas will surpass $4 million raised for neurofibromatosis research, working toward better understanding and uncovering new treatments for the genetic disorder that can manifest in a variety of ways, including cancer, disfigurement, disabling pain and blindness.
Soirée caught up with James to chat about the dance-off and her neighborly love of service.
From Girl Scouts to Junior League to Camp Aldersgate, nonprofits and community organizations have long been a leading force in your life. Why is that, and how did CTF wind up on your radar?
TJ: My passion is to serve others, and I absolutely love our nonprofit community. Our community has many needs and they are addressed with the nonprofit community. It’s imperative for all members of the community to be involved in nonprofits to help solve issues like homelessness and food insecurity, funding for research to help cure diseases, support the underserved, provide education and mentorship, to name a few.
It’s important to me to find the joy in my life, and my joy cup is filled when I serve with nonprofits. Junior League taught me the organizational structure of the nonprofit sector, understanding when a problem or issue has been solved, how to “sunset” a project and move to the next.
This year, I am honored to serve on the board of Camp Aldersgate. Executive Director (and Junior League sustainer) Sonya Murphy reached out, and who can tell Sonya “no”?
I learned about CTF from a colleague, Alisha Curtis. We were having tea at Boulevard Bread one morning to chat about private banking business development, and of course the conversation pivots to discuss our love for nonprofits, and she mentioned CTF and Dancing With Our Stars. I’m all about supporting a noteworthy cause, and Alisha also did not give me a chance to say “no.” The next few days I had a meeting scheduled with CTF Executive Director Lesley Oslica — wow!
This is how I work on community projects. It just happens naturally.
In your role as a "people-centered banker," you often worked with physicians and medical professionals. How have those interactions impacted the way you think about organizations like CTF?
TJ: I’ve been a “people-centered banker” for over 21 years serving in many capacities: leadership, private banking, regional administration, community and business relationship management and most recently joining the Arvest “people team” as program director of talent management. In my new role, I manage associate development programs such as succession planning, the internship program, apprenticeships, executive coaching, etc.
My interactions in my career have taught me how to listen to other’s perspectives first, use empathy, have grace in all situations, not to focus on a problem, create several solutions and how to build relationships, not transactions — there’s a difference between the two. Learning about a person’s interests, family, dreams, goals and hobbies is the way to connect. This is all transferable to nonprofits. It’s connectivity to people.
What's something you've learned about NF during this process?
TJ: May is Neurofibromatosis Awareness Month, but this disease can either be externally visible or not visible because it’s internal. There is no cure yet.
You've noted in the past that saying "yes" to opportunities is a valuable characteristic for you. Was Dancing With Our Stars an easy yes for you?
TJ: It was an easy yes because it is an organization that lives out its mission to drive research, expand knowledge and advance care for the NF community. I try to align my yes with organizations that also mirror my personal beliefs, because once we’re connected, it’s long lasting.
Let's talk dance moves. What was your dance experience coming into this, and how has being a self-proclaimed perfectionist played a part in your preparation?
TJ: I have not danced since attending Little Rock Central High School where I was captain of the hi-stepper team and in middle school at Horace Mann Magnet where my dance teacher was Micheal Tidwell.
At my first DWOS dance rehearsal, my partner Edgar Hall evaluated me, and I was surprised that I remembered “rond de jambe.” I really didn’t know what moves I still had because I haven’t used them in so long. I have a lot of work to do to prepare for this performance, and I’m also at my most vulnerable state.
What are you most looking forward to on Sept. 7?
TJ: This is my first time attending Dancing With Our Stars and I’m a star! I’m excited to see my friends, support a noteworthy cause and am curious about my dance moves because it’s been too long, but most looking forward to raising awareness and funds for NF.
HAIR & MAKEUP
THE PUNCH BOWL
SHOT ON LOCATION AT