A woman stands at the center of a stage holding a microphone. Behind her, there are screens showing the “Victorthon 2023” logo, as well as yellow neon lights. Above the stage, a block “M” is shadowed in the background.
Emily Alberts/Daily.  Buy this photo.

On April 1 at 11 a.m., the members of the Dance Marathon club at the University of Michigan (DMUM) began a journey of personal growth, endurance and resilience. Their task: stand for 24 hours for the affectionately named “Little Victors,” the children receiving or who have received treatments or therapies funded by DMUM. 

DMUM is one of the largest student organizations at the University of Michigan and is dedicated to raising funds and awareness for pediatric therapies at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. During the year, DMUM members often volunteer at the hospital and at therapies, build relationships with honored families of children who receive DMUM-funded therapies and plan fundraising events. However, DMUM’s culminating event is Victorthon, the central fundraiser of the year, where volunteers stand and dance for 24 hours straight.

A woman holds a sign that reads “DMUM Dancers! Hail” as well as “Go Blue” and “For the Little Victors” in maize and blue dry erase marker. In the background, Oosterbaan field house and the Victorthon stage can be seen.
Emily Alberts/Daily.  Buy this photo.

As a wide-eyed U-M freshman in her first few weeks of college, I, like many others before me, experienced my first Festifall. Festifall is an annual U-M tradition in which clubs essentially throw themselves at first-year students, advertising why they should join. DMUM was one of the first clubs that caught my attention, mainly because of the repeated shouts along the lines of, “Do you like children?” and “Do you care about kids in the hospital?” which, admittedly, did get me to a call-out meeting. Since that point, I decided that I wanted to be as involved with DMUM as I could, because, for me, it’s personal. I am a five-year survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is an aggressive type of cancer. I am now in remission, thanks to life-saving treatments and therapies, similar to the ones DMUM provides to children at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. 

While I stood for myself, others stood for siblings, friends, family and strangers alike. Though our reasons were different, we all set out to accomplish the same task: raise money for the Little Victors throughout the year and at Victorthon.

Outrage Dance, Revolution, and Richard Sukpraphrute perform on stage at Victorthon. Emily Alberts/Daily. Buy this photo.

This year, Victorthon was held at Oosterbaan Field House and was the first full 24-hour event since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event began with an opening ceremony, featuring the Outrage Dance group. Later on, Revolution, a Chinese Yo-Yo group at the University of Michigan, and Richard Sukpraphrute, a member of the Michigan Marching Band, performed. 

Throughout the day, several groups and individuals got to perform onstage. One of the therapies DMUM works to fundraise for is Sophie’s Place, which is a dedicated music therapy environment at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. One such performance included a music therapy recipient and a therapist singing and playing guitar on stage.

A man sits on a stool on the Victorthon stage in front of a microphone, playing a guitar, his eyes focused on the guitar. A woman stands to his right, also playing a guitar and smiling, looking out at the audience.
A performance given by a music therapist and a recipient of music therapy at Sophie’s Place at Victorthon. Emily Alberts/Daily.  Buy this photo.

Everyone has different reasons for joining and staying in DMUM. For Operations Director Ritu Somayaji, working with DMUM is extremely important in extending the reach and impact of their funded therapists. “Hearing testimonies from parents about how their children had the ability to go on playdates for the first time or be involved in extracurricular activities such as martial arts like their siblings due to DMUM-funded therapies is incredible,” Somayaji said. 

Victorthon also featured a martial arts performance from patients who receive therapy. Those who receive therapy frequently practice skills such as self-control, teamwork, hand-eye coordination, resilience and everything in between.

“Every single member, therapist, family and kiddo contributes to DMUM and makes us who we are today. We truly would not be who we are today without the involvement of every single person, big and small, over these past 26 years,” Somayaji said. 

Every hour of Victorthon, the leaders of the “line dance” team taught participants snippets of a longer, 15-minute dance that is finally finished at the end of the 24 hours. The line dance leaders donned unique costumes to keep participants interested during the tired moments.

  • The line dance leaders dance on the stage at Victorthon, wearing boas, leis, and other costumes. They stand with their weight on their right side, with their right arm outstretched above their head.
  • A girl stands on the stage dancing, pointing at her partner to the left of her with her knees bent. She wears a pink visor and a purple tutu, with a shirt that reads “Line Dance 2023.”
  • A group of people dances on the Victorthon stage. Their arms are raised above their heads and their hands are in fists. They smile as they look out at the audience.

Of course, Victorthon would not exist without its leadership planning team. DMUM Planning Director Emma Curran revealed that her experience in leadership has kept her involved. “[Having] been a member of every level of leadership, each (role) brings on its own unique responsibilities and opportunities. DMUM offers students to get the opportunity to volunteer at the amazing pediatric rehabilitation facilities at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, and new hands-on experience unlike other volunteering,” Curran said. Not only is DMUM an organization to gain hands-on volunteer experience, but also an organization that is making history. “DMUM was also the first ever student organization to be awarded the Hermelin Award. Dance Marathon is a student-run, nonprofit organization that is breaking barriers and doing things that have never been done before,” she said. 

Families were also extremely important at Victorthon because the whole event worked to honor them. Patients and their families got to experience the carnival theme hours of Victorthon, where they played several carnival games and activities, and ate delicious fair food.

Families and patients play during the carnival theme hour at Victorthon. Emily Alberts/Daily. Buy this photo.

Emily Golding, a freshman in the Emerging Leaders program of DMUM, enjoys the direct engagement with the supported kids and families. “It really puts our fundraising into perspective of how important and impactful it is,” Golding said. “After fundraising all year and during Victorthon, seeing that cause connection in real time was really special.”

Finally, Victorthon would not have been the same without its dancers. Curran continued to say that “Victorthon is so important for the kids, therapies and therapists that we fundraise for, obviously. However, I think that Victorthon is more important for our members. It is a way to recognize so many students for all the hard work that they have put in over the past year.”

Curran revealed that the hours of Victorthon are crucial to fundraising success. “Donors and fundraising efforts collaborate alongside volunteers and therapists to put on fun activities and theme hours, and offer students the opportunity to get tangible leadership experience putting on a 24-hour event,” Curran said.

Overall, after a year of fundraising events and planning, Victorthon 2023 was a definite success. At 11 a.m. on April 2, the grand total came out to be $192,603.57 raised for therapies at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Participants of Victorthon stood in solidarity for 24 hours to honor those who could not. They joyfully took their seats, their exhaustion transforming into elation. The room filled with cheers, giggles and smiles as they celebrated the moment, already looking forward to Victorthon 2024 to continue helping children and families in need.

A row of volunteers on stage have their arms raised in the air each holding a white poster board with a blue number on it. In order, the posters read $192.603.57. The volunteers are in dark blue polo shirts and long khaki pants. In front of them is another row of volunteers, kneeling and clapping on stage. Blue and yellow streamers are thrown in the air as the volunteers cheer and clap.
Emily Alberts/Daily.  Buy this photo.

Assistant Photo Editor Emily Alberts can be reached at ealbs@umich.edu.