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Dance Marathon: Fighting Cancer One Step at a Time

Updated on February 3, 2012


While dance marathons were popular in the 1920s, they have taken on a different sort of meaning across college campuses in present times. In the past, couples would see how long they could stay on their feet dancing with the hopes of winning a prize at the end, but modern Dance Marathons are student run philanthropies that raise money to help support children’s cancer research.


The concept of Dance Marathon originated at Pennsylvania State University in 1973 and was started by the Interfraternal Council. It is still run mostly by students in Greek Life, as are the majority Dance Marathons across the nation. The event has students remain on their feet for 30 consecutive hours. The Dance Marathon at Penn State has become the largest student run philanthropy in the world and helped to raise over $9.5 million just last year!


Two years later, in 1975, Northwestern University began its own Dance Marathon. The trend continued, and there are now Dance Marathons at universities across the nation. Some have been around for many years, while others are just starting out. No matter how old or new they are, each Dance Marathon serves the same purpose. They are there to help raise money to fight pediatric cancer.


The basic premise of Dance Marathon is for the students to remain on their feet. While they are not actually dancing the entire time, they cannot sit down or lean against things. By signing up to participate in Dance Marathon, students are pledging to keep on their feet for the duration of the marathon. While some Dance Marathons only last for 16 hours, others go as long as 32 straight hours.


The money is raised by Dance Marathon in several ways. The main way is generally raised through dancer participation. When a student signs up to participate in Dance Marathon, they are pledging to raise money. They must find people to sponsor them and contribute to their cause. Money is also raised through various fundraisers put on throughout the year or by corporations that donate money to the cause.


While Dance Marathon may just seem like a one weekend event, it is truly a year-long commitment. It might not be a long commitment for the dancers and some participants, but for the executive board that puts on the event, it is definitely a huge commitment. Immediately after Dance Marathon takes place, planning must begin for the next one. There is always work to be done, from reserving rooms and buildings to contacting potential entertainers for the event. It is a tedious, time-consuming process that requires a great deal of dedication on the part of the executive board.


The most beautiful part of this is the fact that college students are taking time out of their lives to help raise money to fight children’s cancer. This is done entirely voluntarily with no payoff for the students. However, the satisfaction of helping fight cancer is more than enough to make it all worth it. When students have a chance to visit the hospital and see where the money they raised goes or when the kids from the hospital visit the event while it is going on, it really puts everything into perspective.


This isn’t meant to give credit to the students putting on the event because they aren’t doing it to be recognized. This is simply to help raise awareness for Dance Marathon. Even though you might not personally know anyone participating in a Dance Marathon, you can still give to this great cause. Do a little research about a university near you to see if they a dance marathon. If you are inspired, go online to their website and randomly donate to some student participant. This money is being used for a wonderful purpose.


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    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      Thanks for sharing this history. Indiana University, here in Bloomington, has a HUGE dance marathon every year. Raising usually well over one million last year alone for Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. I had no idea that there was such a rich history behind it and how wide spread the concept is across the US. Very cool to learn!

    • Joelipoo profile image
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      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @Kris - Dance Marathon was only in its seventh year when I first participated in it at the university I attended. I was on the exec board of ours my senior year in college, and that is when I really became aware of its rich history and influence across the nation. I'm glad you enjoyed reading this.

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