For the 43rd year, Dance Marathon kicked off its first block as more than a thousand dancers ran into the tent in Norris University Center on Friday evening.
Minutes before, Maura Cullen (Weinberg ’87), liaison between GiGi’s Playhouse and DM, welcomed dancers to the tent and reiterated the importance of inclusivity. GiGi’s Playhouse, a nonprofit that supports and advocates for people with Down syndrome, is DM’s primary beneficiary this year.
With bass shaking the tent, dancers donned their best and brightest neon for the second block of Dance Marathon, themed EDMpowerment.
Highlights included galaxy leggings, tights and shorts combos and neon wigs that harkened back to classic ‘80s workout videos. Dancers glowed under black lights placed around the tent, excitedly bouncing to Calvin Harris’ “Let’s Go” and “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz.
Despite a low-energy start to Block 3, dancers erupted in applause when GiGi — who Dance Marathon beneficiary GiGi’s Playhouse is named after — took the stage.
“I don’t think most 14-year-olds are out on a stage at this time of the night,” said Nancy Gianni, GiGi’s mother and the organization’s founder. “And if they are, they’re not up to something good like she is.”
While snow flurried outside, the Dance Marathon tent went tropical.
“Bikini Bottom” featured SpongeBob and beach themes for Block 4. As the sound of the Beach Boys filtered through the tent, a few dancers said weariness was setting in.
After a rousing run around Norris University Center and a glimpse of the outdoors for the first time in about 12 hours, dancers came back into the tent for breakfast and student group performances.
Late in the block, the finance committee announced that $449,838 had been raised by the halfway deadline. Organizers also announced a campaign to raise $30,000 in 10 hours, and members of the dance marathon finance committee circulated in the crowd distributing raffle tickets.
As dancers embarked on the second half of Dance Marathon on Saturday morning, a campaign to raise $30,000 in 10 hours during the event approached its own midway point.
With more than six hours to go, fundraising efforts ongoing during the marathon — such as a phone-a-thon and social media outreach — had raised $14,703, the finance committee announced to a cheering crowd. This is the second year the committee has set a specific goal for fundraising during the marathon.
As Dance Marathon reached the 20-hour mark, both the football team and the basketball team made an appearance to support the event.
Themed “Smells Like School Spirit,” Block 7 started with several a capella performances as dancers were allowed to sit down while eating lunch. Walking onstage to ’90’s music, coach Pat Fitzgerald led members of the football team onto the stage, including sophomore lineman Tommy Doles wearing a Captain America costume.
Block 7 may have been 1980s themed, but dancers also enjoyed a hefty dose of nostalgia during Block 8, when last year’s primary beneficiary, Starlight Children’s Foundation, took center stage.
Cortney Szlemp, Starlight’s DM 2015 liaison, updated dancers on the impact Dance Marathon has had on her organization. Last spring, DM announced the 2015 event raised enough funds for 11 Starlight Sites, surpassing the organization’s initial goal of 10. Szlemp described the therapeutic rooms that include features like lego walls, padded play areas and gaming systems — all the trimmings for a child to “just be a kid.”
After a block set to many songs from the blockbuster musical “Hamilton,” University President Morton Schapiro took the stage and praised the dancers for their charity work.
“I am so proud to be at a University where you take 30 hours out of your time and you come together as a community … (to) support a great cause simply because that’s the kind of people that you are,” he said.
Dance Marathon 2016 raised $1,201,216, reaching a total of more than $1 million for the sixth consecutive year.
The finance committee announced early Sunday morning that GiGi’s Playhouse received $983,833 — which DM co-chairs said is the largest single check DM has presented to its primary beneficiary. The money will go toward offering free educational and therapeutic programs for children and adults with Down syndrome.
This year, DM participants are dancing for 30 hours to raise money for GiGi's Playhouse, a nonprofit that supports and advocates for people with Down syndrome. Funds will also go to the Evanston Community Foundation, making this the 20th year ECF has been the secondary beneficiary.
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