Dance Marathon passes $13 million in fundraising since 1995


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Dancers gathered in the IMU Main Ballroom this past weekend to dance in support for those who have won, are still fighting, or have lost the battle against childhood cancer.

Twenty-four hours of no sitting, no caffeine, and no sleeping culminated in revealing that a record high of $1,801,302.20 had been raised, surpassing last year’s total by more than $271,000.

At 7 p.m. on Feb. 7, dancers sat crossed-legged on the floor, the last time they would have a chance to sit for 24 hours.

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“Twenty-four hours is a long time to dance, but knowing what these kids go through with having cancer, it seems like nothing,” said UI sophomore Chelsea Elming, a first-time dancer.

8:51 p.m., Feb. 7

As the opening ceremony came to a close, the IMU Main Ballroom fell silent as the names of the children who lost their battle with cancer were read aloud.

“I was thinking about why I dance,” UI sophomore Brian Rose said. “For the kids, their brothers and sisters and moms and dads.”

Students were reminded to focus on the candle lit in the back of the room whenever they started to feel tired or forget why they trying to dance for 24 hours.

The phrase “once you choose hope, anything is possible” rang out across the floor, as dancers somberly remembered the kids “dancing in their hearts.”

Rose said reading the names during the opening ceremony is important to keep the integrity of the event alive.

“[It’s important] so we can recognize and remember those who were fighting and those who continue to fight,” he said.

7:38 a.m., Feb. 8

Seven women sat at center stage, holding tightly to one another as tears streamed down their faces, their hair piling up on their shoulders and falling to the ground around them.

While cancer patients have no choice but to lose their hair, dancers, men and women alike, volunteered to get their heads shaved during the Big Event.

“I honestly have never felt more beautiful,” said Kyle Taylor, a morale captain who shaved her head for the cause. “I truly feel like I’ve done something so good, and I’m on top of the world right now.”

Taylor decided in Oct. that she would be a part of this event and said choosing to do it at Dance Marathon with her fellow morale captains made it a more memorable moment.

“I still would have done it, but it wouldn’t have been nearly the experience that it was, and I wouldn’t have been as strong as I was,” she said.

As the razor ran over their heads for the last time, the women stood up, fists in the air, constantly chanting “FTK.”

Alongside the women sitting in the chairs, other dancers and family members stepped up to cut their hair with four easy snips, furthering the donation to the Locks of Love charity.

“Honestly, words can’t describe the feelings you get here,” UI junior Lauren Ellison said. “Everything is so much bigger than you and … a little thing like this means so much to somebody.”

9:30 a.m.

All of the dancers are here for the kids. They dance for the kids, stay awake for the kids, and stay on their feet for the kids. But UI junior Bailey Ford is taking it one step further.

In 2011, just after her freshman year at the UI, Ford was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia.

Now a junior in the UI College of Nursing, she said she feels such a connection to Dance Marathon.

After a year of doing IV-based chemo, Ford switched to rounds of chemo pills. This year and last year, these pill treatments have fallen during Dance Marathon.

“The kiddos inspire me so much,” she said. “Just seeing them … they’re still going through the really hard IV stuff, so I can take some easy pills now. I actually kind of like being on chemo — as weird as that sounds.”

Ford’s current round of chemo pills will end on Feb. 18, and it will be her last round of treatment.
Battling cancer has helped her to connect with her “kiddo.”

“I think we can just connect on such a deeper level,” she said. “[My kiddo] knows that she can talk to me about things. I think it just brings us closer no matter what we’re doing — even if we’re not specifically talking about it, it’s just like a bond we share.”

11:30 a.m.

When thinking about the benefits of Dance Marathon, a bed extender isn’t usually what comes to mind. But for the Cohen family, that’s exactly what they needed.

In January 2013, just before Dance Marathon 19, Cody Cohen was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at the age of 18.

Dance Marathon proceeds helped pay to make Cody Cohen’s bed long enough for his tall frame, along with many other things.

After a failed bone-marrow transplant and dark days isolated from other child cancer patients, Cohen said members of Dance Marathon helped him find the light.

“I could be having the worst day, and if we’d play [cards], everybody would be laughing,” he said. “After that first failure, we were sitting in the hospital for a couple months, and that was pretty rough, but it was nice knowing that there were so many people … who wanted to be there for me.”
Cohen’s parents said they were blown away by the support every day.

“What strikes me is how much goes into this,” Laura Cohen said. “To think that it’s a student-run organization completely amazes me. There is just obviously so much work and so many hours.”

Feb. 7 marked Cody Cohen’s seven-week anniversary of being out of the hospital, and the family said that while the Big Event had only been going on for a few hours, they said it seems as though it has been happening for a year.

“It’s about lifting up cancer patients in so many ways,” Laura Cohen said.

1:04 p.m.

Dancers are constantly reminded to do it all for the kids. This doesn’t just mean the kids at the Big Event, but all kids affected by childhood cancer.

One way to do this is to host a Mini Dance Marathon at the UI Children’s Hospital for children who were still undergoing inpatient treatment and were unable to leave for the event.

“I think the hospital mini is really important because the hospital talks about it all year, [and] it’s nice to know they can be a part of it even though they are not physically there,” said Regina Belcastro, a member of the Dance Marathon Family Relations Hospital Committee.

During the Big Event, Dance Marathon coordinators at the mini event use Skype to call in, and they are projected on the big screen for all of the dancers to see.

“We’re not just showing up at the hospital, we’re doing something fun,” said Jason Wells, a DJ for Dance Marathon. “There’s a big, huge event going on, and it gives them a piece of that so they feel a part of it too.”

2:30 p.m.

Members of the Iowa football team lined the tables of the family room during the afternoon hours of the Saturday portion of Dance Marathon 20 to sign autographs for the “kiddos.”

“It’s just nice to give back,”  Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri said. “We have so much support … so we’re always happy to give back to the kids.”

Two hours later, UI President Sally Mason came to speak to dancers.

“It’s a true reflection of what University of Iowa students are really about,” she told them. “No doubt that the energy and spirit is felt by every person and every child … every person who works and goes to school at the University of Iowa.”

3:30 p.m.

Dressed in yellow caps and gowns, Dance Marathon children who have been cancer free for five years proudly walked down the aisle of clapping dancers. There were smiles and tears as they celebrated their big moment.

“[It’s amazing] how much they’ve overcome,” UI freshman Zach Digman said. “It’s just a great feeling to be a part of an organization that helps them do that.”

5:30 p.m.

During Power Hour, the dancers packed into the Main  Ballroom for one last push.

“I am no longer tired,” UI sophomore Hannah Swenson said. “It’s such a good feeling of being at the end, doing it all for the kids.”

UI freshman Aaron Hendrickson said that although he was feeling pain, he couldn’t complain.

“I can suffer through one day of leg pain,” he said. “[The kids] would gladly have one day of leg pain compared to what they go through.”

After finding out that they had raised more than $1.8 million for the kids, dancers left knowing they had contributed to more than $13 million raised during the past 20 years in the fight against pediatric cancer.

The planning for the next Big Event starts now.

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