Dancing, sledding help prep for UI Dance Marathon


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Earth Wind and Fire’s “Shining Star” blared as preschoolers danced, wearing glowing necklaces and metallic star-shaped sunglasses underneath a bubble machine and disco ball.

Carter Phillips, sporting necklaces and a green Dance Marathon shirt, only took a long enough break from the dance floor to say he liked dancing before running into the crowd again.

Carter, a leukemia patient, is the inspiration behind the University Preschool’s mini-Dance Marathon, which was held for the fourth time Jan. 21.

The 7-year-old’s mother, Robin Phillips, is on the preschool’s school board and suggested a shorter dance for the kids after her son was diagnosed with cancer at 17 months.

“The board was totally like, ‘Let’s do it.’ It already had a disco room upstairs,” she said.

Carter underwent treatment for more than three years; today, he is “healthy as a horse,” his mother said.

“We’re a Dance Marathon family,” Phillips said.

With 11 days until the University of Iowa Dance Marathon’s 24-hour “Big Event,” organizers are arranging a few more activities for families and dancers. UIDance Marathon holds similar events throughout the year.

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Dan Gratie, the Dance Marathon family-relations head, put together a sledding event at West High on Sunday afternoon.

“Dancers come here and realize what they’re all dancing for in a few weeks,” said Gratie, amid shrieks from children sliding down the hill.

Despite the 13-degree weather, dozens of people attended.

“The families, and especially the kids, are much stronger people than I’m ever going to be,” Gratie said. “If that’s not motivation in itself, then you aren’t looking in the right places for it.”

UIDance Marathon dancers were also on hand at both events.

“It’s just cool to come and see kids dance and enjoy it,” said UI senior Abbi Arp, who was at the mini-marathon for the first time.

As the clock neared 6 p.m., some of the youngsters started to wind down.

“For preschoolers, two hours is just perfect,” said Colette Szeszycki, one of the school’s teachers. “We’re all pooped at the end of those two hours.”

Szeszycki said the school has integrated the mini-marathon into the curriculum. The school has the kids practice in the disco room upstairs two weeks before the event, she said.

“It’s so fun, and they get all their energy out,” she said.

The teachers also put out a jar for the students to donate pennies to Dance Marathon. It teaches them to think of others instead of themselves, Szeszycki said.

The mini event has grown a little bit each year because of current preschool students and former families who return, Phillips said.

Carter, who also attends the UI’s Dance Marathon each year, said his favorite part of the mini marathon is dancing with the college students.

“He likes the big one better,” Phillips said. “But it’s a good warm-up.”

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