As the first notes of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” blared inside the Indoor Track & Field Building Saturday afternoon, more than 500 students rushed to the stage and wildly threw their hands up in the air amid a flurry of flashing lights.
The scene marked the start of the 14th annual Dance Marathon at the University, which is one of the largest student-run organizations on campus. Beginning Saturday morning and culminating Sunday evening, hundreds of students danced for 30-hours straight to increase awareness and raise money for pediatric rehabilitation programs at the University’s C.S. Mott Children’s and Women’s Hospital and Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.
This year Dance Marathon raised $447,216.30 for the two hospitals — exceeding the amount raised last year by almost $21,500.
To raise money, students are organized into teams and participate in various activities throughout the year, such as bar nights and a charity ball. They also have the opportunity to interact with the families that benefit from the donations given to the hospitals’ pediatric rehabilitation programs.
The theme of this year’s Dance Marathon was movies, with theme hours featuring different genres and time periods of cinema, including Disney, musicals and action films. The event also featured performances by student groups such as the Michigan Marching Band and Ann Arbor band, Ella Riot.
LSA senior Eric Elgin, executive director of Dance Marathon, said the program helps establish meaningful relationships between members of the University and the greater community.
“It’s an opportunity to get to know a lot of people and at the same time be paired with a family you didn’t know before and learning about a specific child and their condition,” Elgin said.
For the Lickman family, whose 5-year-old daughter Emily has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Dance Marathon has played an important role in assisting her physical therapy and rehabilitation.
Emily’s father, Phil Lickman, said a Dance Marathon team visits and works with Emily at therapy every week. In November, Emily underwent a selective dorsal rhizotomy — a neurological procedure — at the Children’s and Women’s Hospital and wasn’t able to attend a Dance Marathon bonding event, but he said that didn’t stop University students from bringing the event to her instead.
“Her team came and visited her in the hospital — she missed the pajama party — (but) had it with her in her hospital bed,” Lickman said.
Lickman said he is in awe of the encouragement and support his family has received from the Dance Marathon program.
“Her team has just been amazingly supportive of her, and it’s been a great experience for everybody and the entire family,” he said.
Lickman said in order to keep their Dance Marathon team going into the wee hours of the night, the family brings them a midnight treat — a tradition they started last year and hope to maintain.
“We’ll bring our team Slurpees at midnight to keep them fired up for the night,” Lickman said.
LSA sophomore Rohan Dharan, who was a dance captain this year, said he feels that creating a special bond with a family is the most enlightening part about Dance Marathon.
“We’ve had such a good family experience this year,” Dharan said. “They’ve come to all of our events. It’s awesome getting to know their issues, but also getting to know them as people.”
Music, Theatre & Dance senior Emily Wanserski, Dance Marathon community outreach chair, said she was inspired to get involved with the event not only because of her love for dancing, but also due to her own experience with physical therapy after breaking her ankle in high school.
“I had to go through a lot of physical therapy before I could walk again, much less dance again,” she said.
Wanserski added that working with children at Kids In Motion — a pediatric program at the Children’s and Women’s Hospital that provides physical and mental therapy through dancing — has been a very moving for her.
“It gives me the chills just thinking about it because I get to go and help these kids do what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Wanserski said.
The dancers utilized different strategies in order to stay alert for the full 30 hours. LSA freshman Samantha Fischer said using tennis balls to roll over her feet was a good tactic, as well as engaging in multiple activities to keep her mind off of the pain of being on your feet for so long.
The final hour of Dance Marathon was an emotional experience for many dancers, families and members of the community that came to support the cause. In the closing ceremony, Elgin spoke about the dancers’ achievements.
“Other people might have spent this weekend deciding to do other things, deciding they had better things to do,” Elgin said. “I don’t think there is a more remarkable group of students on this campus or in this entire country. I’m so proud of each and every one of you.”