I Went to UIowa’s Dance Marathon as a First-Year Dancer & Here’s What Happened

The first weekend in February at the University of Iowa means one thing—Dance Marathon! As a first-year student, I found a few different student organizations that I decided to commit to throughout the year, but Dance Marathon was by far the most renowned. You don’t have to go much farther than a football game to see how much The University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital means to Iowa City. With all of this in my mind, and a few rounds of monthly dancer meetings under my belt, I walked into the IMU on the evening of the Big Event having pulled an all-nighter only once in my life, but it was nothing like this one would be. So, to anyone considering joining Dance Marathon, whether you are a high schooler or a college elite, here is an inside look at my experience of Dance Marathon 25.

Opening Ceremonies

The night started at 7 p.m. and kicked off with about a two-hour opening ceremony. Yep, this was the time when the executive council gave nearly 3,000 of us the cue—it was time to get on our feet for the next 24 hours! Next came the introductions of the nearly 1,000 kids and families in attendance. The entire main lounge separated like the Red Sea for the parade of families, each with their own unique story, toting their prized possession, a brave little kiddo. Some of them in remission, some of them in the midst of their battle, these families all had something in common, their unwavering tenacity. I could tell just by how confidently they each took the stage, that the strength that months and years of fighting had instilled in them was of a quality most of us will never know. Some of these families had been in the program for more than 25 years! It was then that I realized the magnitude of what we were doing, and suddenly standing up for it didn’t seem so bad.

This parade of families was shortly followed by an acknowledgment of the vigil in the back of the room. Three patchwork quilts held the names of kids who had lost their battle with cancer, those who were “dancing in our hearts.” After reading each of their names, the crowd was told that the candle that sat on the balcony next to the quilts would remain lit throughout the event and would serve to commemorate those who were with us in spirit.

Now all of this sounds pretty heavy, and it was, but it reminded us all what our year of fundraising had been for and why it was time to celebrate it! This was truly what the next 22 hours of Dance Marathon was—a celebration! With three kick-butt DJ's, my friends and I danced the night away, stopping to take a peek in the craft room, throwback room, game room and more! Up on the third floor, these rooms were a way to keep ourselves busy by participating in some fun activities. 

Major Events

At around the 2 a.m. mark, DJ Ravi Drums turned the main lounge into a club with his drum rig, NASA designed “Dream Screen,” and combination of sound mixes and bass drops. The rest of the night featured a few more artists such as Fly by Midnight which kept up morale when we neared the halfway point. 

Speaking of the halfway point, it’s DM tradition to blast Bon Jovi’s "Livin’ on a Prayer" at 7 a.m., halfway through the event, and again at 5:30 p.m., halfway through power hour. But somewhere in-between came one of the most fun parts of the Big Event—kiddo graduation! Now I’m not going to lie, this was around noon and everything from my back ache to the closeness of the person next to me was starting to get on my nerves. Nevertheless, when "Pomp and Circumstance" started to play over the speakers and I saw the little yellow caps and gowns start to come down the aisle, I realized how worth it was about to be to be squashed into this mountain of sleep-deprived people. Kiddo graduation commemorates those who have been officially declared five years cancer-free. There were over ten graduates this year, each standing when their name was called as medical staff from the hospital read a few words about their hopes for the future. This event reminded me, and I’m sure everyone else, that the money, emotional support, and resources that we were providing for the fight against childhood cancer really could yield results; we really could save lives.

Power Hour

Lastly, we rolled into power hour at about 5 p.m. after 22 hours of dancing, family speakers, meet-ups and a kiddo talent show. This last push consisted of glow sticks, chants and a whole lot of love FTK. One last family speaker, the Garrett Matthias family, brought home DM 25.  Garrett’s mother, Emilie, spoke of how Garrett didn’t want his eventual death from cancer to be sad, so there would be no funeral. Garrett’s celebration of life on July 14, 2018, consisted of bouncy houses, snow cones and Batman. In fact, Garrett, who let his family know that he was going to become a gorilla in heaven, had such a fun-loving, creative personality that an author decided to publish his story, entitling his new children’s book "The Wonderous World of Matthias."

Tote Board!

After being told Garrett’s heart-touching story, the time had come—the tote board was near! One by one the big black rectangles filled the stage and one by one they went up: $2,960,403.25 all for the kids.

My first experience with Dance Marathon will certainly be engrained in my mind forever as one filled both with sleeplessness and gratification— gratification at the thought that anyone is capable of contributing to that tote board, and I had chosen to this year. I can’t wait to start fundraising for Dance Marathon 26, with a new-found inspiration that can only be found at the Big Event. To anyone who is considering joining us next year, I hope you do, because it's going to take a village to get rid of cancer for good; until then we’ll keep “creating tomorrow by dancing today.” 

Image Credit: All personal photos