More than a Dance Competition

CASA Encore brings sororities together for a dance-off benefitting abused and neglected children

Volunteers and participants from the 2018 Theta Encore celebrate the event’s success. The UM College Panhellenic and CASA of Lafayette are hosting this year’s event as CASA Encore on Wednesday (Nov. 13) at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Though the name has changed this year, a long-running sorority dance-off event to benefit abused and neglected children returns this month to the University of Mississippi.

For nearly 20 years, Theta Encore was the philanthropy event for the since-disbanded Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. This year, the UM College Panhellenic and CASA of Lafayette County will host the event as CASA Encore at 7 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 13) at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

The Ole Miss Thetas had raised $92,000 through the event last year, up from $20,000 the previous year. Encore has worked well over the years and was growing, so the transition didn’t involve a lot of changes, said Pirie Maher, Panhellenic vice president of philanthropy.

“My mother always taught me not fix something that isn’t broken,” Maher said. “That is how I would describe the transition from Theta Encore to CASA Encore. The competition follows the structure set up by our Theta predecessors.

“Really, the only thing different is the name and leadership.”

Seating is reserved in order to keep groups together. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the UM Box Office in the Ford Center, online at or by phone at 662-915-7411.

CASA, which stands for “court-appointed special advocates,” is Kappa Alpha Theta’s national philanthropy. Ole Miss Thetas had organized Theta Encore as the chapter’s philanthropy event and donated all the proceeds to CASA for nearly 20 years.

Though it started as an intense dance competition event among pledge classes from all sororities, the event had expanded in recent years. The event has several categories, including a blood drive participation and a banner contest.

Routines are restricted to three to five minutes and usually showcase a variety of dance genres and levels of experience. The judges are anonymous and none share an affiliation with the chapters participating, which helps eliminate potential bias.

One change with CASA Encore is that every participating chapter will get a cash prize. First place will receive $3,000, second place gets $2,000 and third place gets $1,000 toward the chapter’s philanthropy.

No local CASA program existed until 2017, when Erin Smith started CASA of Lafayette County, a nonprofit that has been assigned to court cases since Nov. 14, 2018.

CASA’s mission is to train volunteers to advocate for the best interest of children involved in court proceedings to make sure they find safe and permanent homes. CASA promotes court advocacy as a tool for breaking the cycle of child abuse.

Smith, who is also a Theta alumna, said the event has been a huge help to CASA’s efforts.

“Over the years Theta Encore has grown enormously,” Smith said. “It started out as this fun dance competition to get new members to meet new friends, but over the past five years, it has been extremely successful in raising funds for CASA.”

Smith said she is thankful that the Panhellenic is continuing the event and applauds the group for involving as many Thetas as possible.

“We are very thankful that Panhellenic has decided to take this event over,” Smith said. “Having Panhellenic take this event over has been nothing but a blessing for this program.”

This year’s event is spearheaded by Maher and backed by the Panhellenic executive board and CASA committee members, which include volunteers from different chapters, including some Thetas.

The planning and execution also requires lots of coordination with various campus organizations. Maher credits the help of Mississippi Blood Services, the Office of Fraternal Leadership and Learning, Ole Miss Student Union, the Ford Center, the university’s Facilities Management and Parking Services departments, the Trophy Shop, CASA of Lafayette County and all the chapter leaders and members with making the event a success.

Last year, Theta chapter members Emily Mitchell and Jeannie Williams reached out to Panhellenic about continuing the event. Sidney Sirdashney, Theta philanthropy chair in 2018, directed Theta Encore last year and helped Maher with planning this year’s event.

Maher also had help from two Thetas, Michaela Griffin and Miranda Walsh, who joined the CASA committee.

“I have tried to remain true to the traditions and logistics set forth by Kappa Alpha Theta,” Maher said. “The transition has been made smooth, thanks to the help of Sidney Sirdashney and Emily Mitchell.”

Maher said she looks forward to the closeness the event fosters among the participants and organizers.

“It is really exciting to see the creativity of our chapter members on display, and it’s also a great way to create team bonding,” Maher said.