If U.S. ballroom dance had a Super Bowl, it would be the Ohio Star Ball.
Held for the past 35 years at the Hyatt Regency in Columbus, Ohio, it's the final big annual competition on the Pro-Am DanceSport circuit, a six-day event for amateurs and professionals. It involves hundreds of contestants, 70 judges, three masters of ceremonies, two DJs — and, this time, one extremely well-heeled Kansas Citian.
Lauren LaPointe has spent the past year preparing for this event.
She's the daughter of an elite, high-profile figure — Julia Irene Kauffman, one of Kansas City's wealthiest women — and she understands that this has always invited a certain scrutiny. "I think everyone is judged. It's human nature to make assumptions about people," she says. "And because of my name, I'm used to being judged on all kinds of levels."
She has come to Ohio to be judged differently.
But she has learned to be judged as a dancer only recently, and she's about to put herself in front of a battery of former competitive ballroom dancers and dance teachers. These judges are, by definition, critical — about technique and costumes and personal appearance.
"The way you look and the costumes you wear are very critical in the judging process," says LaPointe, who has lost 45 pounds this year while also enduring several painful laser treatments to have upper-body tattoos permanently removed. "I didn't want anything to take away from the image I'm trying to portray on the dance floor."
It's an image she has worked hard to build from scratch in a very short span of time — an image apart from the one she inherited in Kansas City.
Don't call LaPointe an heiress. She hates that word. Don't say she's a socialite, either. She hates that term even more. OK, how about philanthropist?
"My family supports the arts in Kansas City," she says. "But my mother is the philanthropist."
In the Kansas City arts community, Julia Irene Kauffman does indeed run the dance floor. A longtime supporter of the Kansas City Ballet (one of her mother's pet projects), she oversees the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation and was appointed to the Ewing Kauffman Foundation board of trustees last February.
Hers is perhaps the first name in local wealth. Julia Irene Kauffman's mother, the late Muriel McBrien Kauffman, married the billionaire Ewing Marion Kauffman in 1962, when Julia was 12 years old; he later adopted Julia, and she took his name. Ewing M. Kauffman, the founder of the pharmaceutical company Marion Laboratories (which reported revenues of $930 million in 1989, the year it merged with Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals; both firms are now part of French-based Sanofi), was best-known as the owner of the Kansas City Royals baseball team from 1969 until his death in 1993. After Muriel's death in 1995, her estate was left primarily to Julia and the foundation bearing her name. It was a significant enough inheritance that Julia Irene Kauffman paid $31.3 million in estate taxes the following year.
Lauren Muriel-Marion LaPointe is Julia's middle daughter, from her second marriage to Canadian Richard Wayne LaPointe. (The couple divorced when Lauren was 5 years old. LaPointe died in Canada two years ago.)
LaPointe is divorced and a single mother currently in a long-distance romance with a doctor in California. Her 13-year-old daughter, Brittany, is also a dancer — she had the lead role in the Kansas City Ballet's The Nutcracker several years ago.
"She has beautiful taste and a beautiful home," a friend says of LaPointe. "She really doesn't need to do anything."
So what do you call this 39-year-old woman who happens to be the granddaughter of the legendary Kauffman couple (and the daughter of one of Kansas City's wealthiest women, Julia Irene Kauffman)?