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You CAN Survive Dance Marathon

Northwestern University’s Dance Marathon is not for the weak of heart. It is one of the largest student-run philanthropies in the country, has been around since 1975 and was ultimately one of the most challenging things that I did my freshman year of college.

As someone who’s had time since my last DM to reflect on all of the highs and lows, I’m offering up the tips and tricks that’ll ensure the smoothest 30 hours possible. Before stepping into that tent to dance your heart and soul out for this year’s beneficiary, the Starlight Children’s Foundation, this is what you should absolutely keep in mind!

What to pack

One thing that seems rather abstract before stepping into the actual tent, is the fact that you will in fact spend the NEXT 30 HOURS exclusively inside of it (aside from a bathroom break here and there). Freshman me took this notion way too lightly and therefore failed to pack accordingly.

Although there are many things that the various NUDM committees do to try to fuel the dancers, it is also important to pack some things for yourself. The snacks are great but they are not really personalized to suit individual preferences. Therefore, it is very wise to pack a couple of snacks of your own.

In addition, bring a fanny pack to wear at all times.You can keep several essentials inside your pack. First, make sure that you’ve got chapstick. Going 30 hours with chapped lips is just straight up uncomfortable. Also include a granola bar, hair ties if you need them and your phone/camera.

There is a space which all dancers are designated to go back to during the 10-minute breaks between rounds. In this room you can keep a backpack/duffle. I suggest keeping a supply of baby wipes, hand sanitizer and deodorant in this bag. When the sweat begins to gather at the top of the tent and drip down in droplets (yes, this does happen), it is natural to be feel overwhelming gross and in need of a shower. Having a few items that will help you feel even a little more fresh will be worth it.

It is also helpful to include a different pair of socks for each round (your feet will get super sweaty). Consider bringing sandals for when the sneakers begin to feel too constraining. Lastly, don’t forget to bring chargers, any contacts/glasses and fun costumes for each theme.

Essential tips

Inside the tent, there will be cubbies holding everyone’s water bottles–typically towards the very back. Because I wanted to avoid the little bit of extra hassle that it took to get my water bottle every so often, I went the first three rounds of DM extremely dehydrated. Essentially, I almost passed out and had to sit down for half of a round.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to DRINK WATER often. Staying hydrated is essential even when you’re not standing on your feet for 30 hours and depriving your body of sleep. Therefore, under the given circumstances, visiting the water station should be a priority for every round of DM. Your body needs it so badly!

Another tip that wasn’t initially on my radar during my first Dance Marathon is to elevate your feet between rounds. Standing around for extended periods of time can restrict the circulation throughout the legs. So lying on your back and raising your legs and feet up between rounds can assist in reducing some of that pressure and swelling. **To emphasize this point, my feet were so swollen after not doing this for the first few rounds that they could barely fit into my tennis shoes anymore.

Remember to….

Stay patient when it comes to waiting in line for the bathroom. Sometimes there are simply less people who have to go and it will move a lot more quickly. But often, you might just have to suck it up until its your turn.

NOT chug caffeine right before Dance Marathon. This will seriously throw off your body’s feng shui and lead to an inevitable crash.

Stay positive. DM is for a great cause and it’s awesome bonding experience. When you reach those low moments, just take a deep breath and  know that everyone else is in the same boat as you. Everyone gets a little grumpy when lacking on sleep, but getting through all 30 hours with the people around you will ultimately bring everyone closer together!

Actually dance! During the times that I stood still, it was way harder to stay awake and keep energy high. Actually keeping yourself dancing, even if it’s just by shuffling your feet, is super helpful for keeping momentum high.

Good luck and go get ‘em dancers!


Second photo courtesy of Sean Su.

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Haley Smith


Haley is currently a Journalism major at Northwestern University, Sociology minor. She is also pursuing a certificate in Integrated Marketing Communications. She has written for several campus publications and is a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. She has a few unhealthy habits that include obsessing over British boys with good hair, wanting to watch way too many eighties movies and lurking on various forms of social media.
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