Founders reflect on first Dance Marathon


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White shirts with mini yellow and white dancer logos are being pulled from boxes marked “college,” and old photographs are being dug from the attic and swept of dust as alumni reminisce and prepare to join the ranks of the 20th anniversary of the University of Iowa Dance Marathon.

Dance Marathon officials said they have placed an emphasis on including alumni in this year’s event, along with a growing number of families, funding, and dancers.

“Something we are really focusing on this year is getting in touch with our roots,” said Drake Wilbur, the public relations and marketing director for Dance Marathon 20. “[We are] working toward developing a strong relationship with alumni.”

On Feb. 7, Sheila Baldwin won’t attend the Big Event as assistant vice president of development for the UI Children’s Hospital. Instead, she’ll celebrate and congratulate fellow alumni on a record year of what they thought would be merely another fundraising event 20 years ago.

“We didn’t really plan for [this]; we were just trying to create a fundraising event, not trying to create a tradition,” she said. “What we didn’t anticipate was that our lives would all be changed in the meantime and that the course of the direction of so many students’ lives would be changed by this event.”

Dance Marathon is a student organization providing financial, as well as emotional, support to oncology patients at the Children’s Hospital.

Baldwin has attended every Dance Marathon since the first year, where she served on the executive council. During the first event, she said, members were worried students wouldn’t get involved or want to stay the whole time.

But, she said, the connections made between the dancers and families proved enough to fuel the students to remain dancing for the full 36 hours.

“We never thought about the fact that students who were there to participate could be so affected by that connection to a family,” she said. “During the course of the event, we realized the dancers needed that motivation from the families … to really happen at just the right time for when students need that pick-me-up.”

While the integrity of the event has remained, Baldwin said there are many new things happening this year that were not in the plans for the first event. Hearing family stories and holding up corkboards with the final amount of money were things she said the first executive committee decided to do “in the heat of the moment.”

Kathy Whiteside, a senior child-life specialist at the Children’s Hospital who participated in the inaugural year as a hospital employee, said since then, she has been surprised by the influx of new students who continually bring new ideas.

“The thing that’s been so incredible to me is that for 20 years, the kids … have always come up with new ideas,” she said. “It’s amazing to me that the ideas are still so fresh, even with a new group of students every year.”

Baldwin said she is pleased with the amount of support but is not surprised.

“I knew by the time I graduated that Dance Marathon had taken its hold on the university,” she said. “I knew it would remain a part of this campus, [but] what I didn’t expect was that it would be one of the most influential ways students would get involved on campus.”

Wilbur said he thinks alumni support is what makes the 20th year so important.

“It’s really interesting and cool at the same time that it’s 20 years of students all working toward the same thing,” he said.

The executive director of Dance Marathon 20, Daniel Morse, said using the previous 19 years as guidance is an invaluable tool.

“It’s just a great honor [and] great opportunity to look back on the past Dance Marathons to see how far we’ve come,” he said. “And it’s a great opportunity to look toward the future to [where] the organization will grow and expand.”

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