UI Dance Marathon Morale Captains in Training learn leadership early


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As Dance Marathon’s morale captains lead the crowd in another rendition of the revered “Morale Dance,” toddlers bounce in their parent’s arms, and young children accept a twirl from a green-clad dancer.

But waiting in a sort of limbo between the little kids and the college-age captains and dancers are Dance Marathon’s teenagers, who might feel a bit out of place at the 24-hour “Big Event.”

“The little kids seem to fit right in with the dancers; I think the teens have to work at it a little more,” said 17-year-old Dillyn Mumme, who first participated in the Big Event at the age of 13, when he was starting treatment for lymphoblastic leukemia. “Once I got to meet some of the dancers and stuff, I got to interact more and be more involved in what’s going on.”

The best way to facilitate this interaction, Dance Marathon family representatives decided three years ago, was to establish the Morale Captains in Training Program. This organization teams Dance Marathon patients and family members ages 13 through 18 with the family representatives and morale captain assistants for an inside look at leadership. Since 2010, the program has grown by dozens of participants.

“A lot of the kids look up to the college students and want to hang out as a more peer relationship,” said Emily Dungan, a family representative head. “It kind of makes them realize what goes on from behind the doors of Dance Marathon and what has to happen in order for them to get what they do out of Dance Marathon.”

Donning red and white tie-dye shirts, the morale captains in training will meet in their exclusive team room in the IMU five times over the course of the Big Event on Friday and Saturday to speak with Dance Marathon leadership, eat pizza, collect “swag” such as glasses and bracelets, and learn the Morale Dance just in time to perform it on the stage during Power Hour — the high-energy last 60-minutes of the Big Event.

The latter was one of 14-year-old morale captain in training Aimee Johnson’s favorite parts of last year’s Dance Marathon, along with getting to know other teens and her morale captain assistant mentor.

“There’s so much adrenaline, running around and doing random things for 24 hours and having fun,” she said. “It was a great learning experience, and I basically did not want to miss out on it this year.”

Because her 2-year-old sister, Bethanie, is being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Aimee’s mother, Melissa Johnson, encouraged her to join the Morale Captains in Training Program.

“Siblings maybe feel more disconnected from the experience, but Morale Captains in Training really gave Aimee a place to belong,” Melissa Johnson said. “She had a blast last year—we didn’t see her until like 10 the next morning.”

Dillyn, the first ever Morale Captain in Training Program director, proposed even more community-building measures this year, including increased communication via a group Facebook page and games to help the teens become more comfortable with fellow kids and college students.

“Everyone’s there to get people to come out of shells and to just have fun,” he said, who plans to get involved in Dance Marathon at Iowa State University, where he will start classes next fall. “Morale Captains in Training helps get people who are going through things like me involved and gives them insight on what being a dancer is about.”

Alissa Bornhoft, a member of the Dance Marathon family-relations committee, said approximately 50 teens are registered as morale captains in training — about 25 of them returning members — and they expect an upwards of 75 kids to sign up by Friday night, in comparison with last year’s 63.

Aimee said she hopes to pursue Dance Marathon leadership in the future. For now, she said, she is committed to the Morale Captains in Training Program.

“The Dance Marathon representatives and the family-relations kids helped mold our family into what it was before my sister was diagnosed,” she said. “Dance Marathon’s just another family. As far as I am concerned, I will be doing Morale Captains in Training until I am 18.”

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