For 24 straight hours this weekend, University of Michigan students stood in solidarity with disabled children as they raised money to support both C.S. Mott Children’s and Women’s Hospital and Beaumont Children’s Hospital during the 19th annual Dance Marathon.
The event ended Sunday afternoon with an announcement of the final tally of a semester-long fundraising effort: $475,807.05. Last year, Dance Marathon fundraising totals reached about $460,000.
As an organization, Dance Marathon hosts several events throughout the year including mini marathons at local high schools and creative events such as pumpkin carving, where participants can interact with the children benefitting from the fundraisers. This year, event organizers rebranded the capstone dance event from “Dance Marathon” to “VictorThon” to better incorporate and connect to the University community.
Alyssa Allen, Dance Marathon’s public relations chair and recent University graduate, said the organization rebranded the marathon to build a stronger brand. Choosing to incorporate the University with the event led to several new initiatives, such as naming designated stations after campus landmarks and setting the event’s fundraising goal at $109,901 — one dollar for every seat in the Big House — she added.
“I think that it just makes for more cohesive programming and ‘VictorThon’ gets a lot more people excited because we’re all so spirited about this University,” Allen said.
During VictorThon, dancers remained on their feet for 24 hours to show their support for children with mental and physical ailments. To raise money before the event, dancers register in teams that fundraise throughout the year through campaigns such as bake sales, asking for donations on street corners and hosting special bar nights around Ann Arbor.
To help keep dancers motivated, Dance Marathon incorporated random line dances throughout the night, taught from the main stage by event organizers. With each announcement of a line dance, instructors would add three more songs to the lineup; what started as a minute-long line dance in the beginning quickly piled into a 10-minute performance set to clips of more than 20 songs.
Also new this year was a designated area called the FTK Lounge. FTK is an acronym commonly used and chanted during the marathon that stands for “For The Kids” — reminding dancers throughout the 24-hour stretch of the children they are helping by staying on their feet. The lounge was outfitted with lounge chairs that marathon participants could sit in for a dollar per minute.
“We really want to push in-event fundraising this year because we do so much fundraising throughout the year, but in-event there’s so much more opportunity to fundraise,” Allen said.
Dance Marathon founder Inder Singh spoke during the opening ceremony about how far the program has come since the first marathon in 1998, noting the difficulties in initiating the now annual program.
“I remember one week before the very first marathon, the Athletic Department called us and said, ‘you guys can’t do this,’ ” Singh said. “ ‘You guys don’t have the insurance, we don’t know if your EMTs are certified — you can’t do this.’ We were panic-stricken.”
Singh said the inaugural marathon went ahead as scheduled only after the marathon’s first team of event organizers and founders dropped all their commitments and called notable community members including former football coaches Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr.
“It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the efforts of hundreds and hundreds of people,” Singh said.
LSA freshman Harrison Angoff said he participated in VictorThon because he felt it was his duty to aid those who have difficulties performing everyday tasks.
“As college students I think we’re really privileged to be able to attend the University and to live our daily lives unhindered,” Angoff said. “I think it’s really important to fundraise for assistance and therapy to allow these children to live as normal a life as possible.”
Angoff said he thought the greatest challenge during the marathon is for students to remember why they’re choosing to undergo the physically trying event.
“We complained about our legs hurting or being tired, but really all it comes down to is who you’re helping and why you’re helping them,” he said. “Once you think about that the little issues that you come across go away immediately.”
During VictorThon, teams were paired up with children undergoing therapies, which benefit from the organization’s fundraiser and aims to personalize the experience.
Conor Waterman, one of the children who benefits from the marathon's fundraising, said he greatly appreciates what the Dance Marathon organization has done for his treatments, and added he enjoys meeting new people every year and having a fun time.
“My experience at Dance Marathon has always been just being around awesome people,” Waterman said. “This is just a great organization you guys have formed, and you’re just making money for great, great things.”