Dance Marathon stays true to its roots


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Adam Blind participated in his first Dance Marathon in 2005, the organization’s 11th “Big Event.”

Now the president of the Dance Marathon Alumni Group, Blind said he believes the organization hasn’t changed much from when he first participated as a college student — it’s just expanded.

“Dance Marathon has a lot of tradition, but at the same time, it’s really fluid,” he said.

While traditions such as canning have been part of the organization since its inception, they have grown, along with the size of the organization’s student base and funds raised.

In 1994, Dance Marathon originated at the UI as a collaboration between the Children’s Miracle Network and the Office of Student Life. The university hosted its first “Big Event” in 1995, which included roughly 180 dancers who raised $31,000 for pediatric-cancer patients. That year, 26 families participated, a stark contrast from the more than 400 involved now.

Since it began, Dance Marathon has raised more than $8.6 million, according to its website.

Despite the success, the UI wasn’t the pioneer for the idea.

“Iowa does a fantastic job with Dance Marathon here, but we’re definitely not alone,” said Kyle-Dale Walters, Dance Marathon’s executive director.

Penn State University’s THON was the first Dance Marathon in 1973. Northwestern University followed in 1975. In 1991, Indiana University began its Dance Marathon, an event officials used to honor Ryan White, a 13-year-old who died in 1990 of HIV.

But the UI’s Dance Marathon has distinguished itself through the creativity of its students.

“What’s really great is over the years, students have done a phenomenal job coming up with new ideas,” said Michelle Altmaier, the program director of the Children’s Miracle Network for the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.

Altmaier, who is also a Dance Marathon adviser, has helped bring several new programs to Dance Marathon, including a Dance Marathon “graduation” ceremony to honor former cancer patients and their families who have been finished with treatment for five years or more. The graduation ceremony will honor nine “Forever Families” this year.

“[The graduation ceremony is] a really great celebration,” Altmaier said.

But Dance Marathon’s programming hasn’t been the only aspect of the organization that’s expanded.

While Altmaier said the official Dance Marathon slogan is “creating tomorrow by dancing today,”

Dance Marathon continually reminds participants that it’s “for the kids” in everything from T-shirts to e-mail correspondence in morale groups.

“Instead of ‘sincerely’ or ‘thank you,’ it’s FTK and then your name,” said Courtney Bond, a Dance Marathon adviser.

And shes believes the organization’s catch phrase has helped dancers keep everything in perspective.

“[Dance Marathon] has definitely taken hold of what it’s truly about — in this case, ‘for the kids,’ ” she said.

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