Dance Marathon 19 sets records


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It’s more than consistency — it’s success.

Twenty-fours of dancing ended with yet another record-breaking year at University of Iowa Dance Marathon 19.

Dancers wiped the tears from their eyes and climbed back to their feet. Children filed onto the stage to reveal the total amount of money raised. Officials announced a record-breaking $1.53 million, bringing the grant total since 1995 to $12.7 million.

“It’s incredible,” said Nic Rusher, the executive director of Dance Marathon. “It’s not about the money, but it represents the year worth of effort everyone put in.”

Feb. 1, 7:30 p.m.

The Big Event opening ceremonies began with a roar that shook the ballroom.

For the 19th year, students, alumni, volunteers, and families came together this past weekend for one cause.

“You’re going to laugh, you’re going to cry,” Rusher said. “You’re going to have a really good time.”
Energy rippled through the room as the time for dancing approached.

“Right now, this is a moment in your life,” said Zach Johnson, the director of the national Dance Marathon. “This is a moment right before you become part of something bigger than yourself. This may be a moment that changes your life.”

Saturday Feb. 2, 7:30 a.m.

Halfway through the Big Event, hair danced in the air as dozens of dancers lined up to shave their heads and cut their hair — all in the name of the kids.

“I am a morale captain, and this year my kid ended up passing away, so for me it’s just a tribute for him,” UI student Jeremy Hahn said. “If something as simple as shaving my head can mean that much for family to see and make a difference to them, it’s nothing to us. We can do it in a heartbeat if it puts a smile on their faces. Hair grows back.”

And dancers that cut their hair mean a lot to the children as well.

“I know from my experience with Dance Marathon that some of them, they are self-conscious,” Hahn said. “They are just strong enough that they don’t want to admit it. To see us, their buddies, do the same thing, they think it’s cool and they can brag to their friends.”

10:45 a.m.

For the second year, the UI Children’s Hospital hosted its own “mini Dance Marathon” in the gymnasium for children who were unable to travel to the Big Event.

“We’re really trying to make it like the Big Event,” said Kaitlin Flannery, the Dance Marathon Hospital Director. “For some kids, this is their favorite holiday. It’s bigger to them than Christmas or Halloween, it’s their own holiday.”

3:30 p.m.

An aisle widened in the packed ballroom, leading up to the stage. “Pomp and Circumstance” played over the speakers — but in contrast to the solemnity that usually comes with graduation, cheers and applause pressed against the walls of the ballroom.

Amid the bright and crazy colors of dancers, children marched in gold graduation gowns, ready to accept their diploma for being five years cancer free.

“I want to say that it’s even, if not as, important as a high-school graduation,” said Jamie Lick, the Dance Marathon family-relations director. “A big part of their life was cancer and they are able to look back on that and celebrate all the hardships and put them behind them.”

4:35 p.m.

In usual fashion, UI President Sally Mason paid a visit to the Big Event Saturday afternoon as dancers prepared for the final hour of Dance Marathon.

Mason gave a short speech praising the dancers for all their hard work throughout the fundraising for the Big Event. 

“I want to tell each and everyone one of you that because of you, this is bigger and better every year,” Mason said in a speech to the dancers. “You provide the inspiration for this university to be great. Thank you.” 

6:20 p.m.

Smiles mixed with sweat, ear drums rang, hearts pounded, and the children danced with more energy than anyone thought possible. Morale captains lined the stage, and the DJs built the music faster and faster without pause.

All of a sudden, the last 24 hours came to a head — the flash of a newly bald head, dancing among the families that the whole marathon revolves around, mixed with the voices of the UI’s student body. They shouted and danced and yelled for the kids who weren’t so much younger.

“I think of Dance Marathon as a lot of sad moments and happy moments,” veteran dancer Molly Lipman said. “Power Hour is more like the celebration of the life of the families, of us fundraising — everything just coming together.”

7:28 p.m.

After hundreds of songs, thousands of footsteps, roughly $1.53 million raised later, Dance Marathon 19 ended.

The closing ceremony hit home for many, especially for the families who had lost children of their own.

“It’s kind of sad Dance Marathon is over,” said Elsie Perkins, a mother who had lost her son to cancer two years ago. “Here you can talk about your family openly, and it’s really special others open their hearts to him. Now we have to wait a whole year until the next one."

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