Does the idea of a dance marathon make you think of sock-hopping teens from the 1950’s, swaying together, trying to dance to the new sound of rock-and-roll for twenty-four hours? Well dance marathons are popular around the country, and they are an excellent way for schools to raise money and for students to show school pride while being involved in a high-energy fundraiser. is fortunate to have two schools, the Washington University of St. Louis and Indiana University to share their tips on what makes a dance marathon successful.

The Washington University at St. Louis Dance Marathon, called St. Louis Area Dance Marathon has been running for nine years. “In the first year, the dance marathon consisted of about 100 dancers who each raised approximately $100 each. Last year more than 600 dancers took part in the event to raise a total over $123,000,” said Meredith Pierce, Director of Communications.

The Indiana University Dance Marathon was established in 1991 — 2007 will be their 17th year. Jill Stewart, a former Indiana University student established the marathon in honor of her close friend Ryan White, a Riley Hospital for Children patient who contracted HIV during a blood transfusion. Ryan helped raise the level of consciousness of an entire nation towards the plight of those suffering from the AIDS virus and other infectious disease and our marathon and the center were started in his honor,” said Carly Dachis, Director of Public Relations for Indiana University.

A Dance Marathon Needs Volunteers In Many Different Roles

The dance marathon executive board has 23 full-time students that volunteer their time year-round to plan and execute all dance marathon-related activities. “We need about 100 volunteers on the day-of to help us run our dance-a-thon. They help us with check-in processes, security (of belongings and of participants), set-up and tear-down, and food service, as well as other smaller tasks for which we need a few extra hands during the day,” said Greg Perlstein, Executive Director for the Washington University at St. Louis Dance Marathon.

Interviews are conducted for new Executive Board Members during the end of November. “We start meeting as a board in January. A lot of people do not realize that Dance Marathon is a year long event. During the spring semester we are busy not only goal setting, bonding and planning for the fall and the event, but also fundraising. We try to get most everything planned before Fall semester starts. When Fall semester comes around we do not have to worry about administrative or planning details, we can simply execute our plans,” said Pierce.

The Indiana University Dance Marathon has a “hierarchy” and everyone involved has a different role and a position that is important. “The first is the Riley Kids. The Riley families will attend our marathon and share their stories throughout the weekend and all our efforts and goals relate directly for them. Second is our dancers. Our marathon will expect to have 1,000 dancers (2006 exceeded that number). Our dancers stand and are awake for 36 hours and are the foundation of our event. Without them, our efforts would not be as strong and successful as they are. Dancers must raise at least $400 to dance however most raise much more. Third is our Committee Members- Indiana University Dance Marathon has 375 hardworking committee members divided throughout 15 different committees. Most members have danced before however it is not required to be on a committee. Fourth is our Directors. There are 15 directors who lead each of the committees; we are divided into 4 focus groups, each led by a VP on the Board of Managers. Fifth is our Board of Managers- includes: VP of: Communication, Internal, External and Finance. Sixth is our President which is a student-held position,” said Dachis. “Separate from the dancers and committee members we have two other new positions: Ryan’s Angles and Security. R.A.’s are “short-term” dancers intended to motivate our dancers and help out and participate throughout the time they are on the floor. Security is committee members and other volunteers ensuring the safety and structure of our students during the 36 hours.” said Dachis of Indiana University.

The Indiana University Dance Marathon is a 36 hour event. It will be on November 9th 2007 starting at 8 p.m. until November 11th at 8 a.m. Participants will stand awake the entire time and not sleep. “The event, however, is a year-long effort. The executive positions are filled within 3 weeks after the marathon has ended and planning for next year starts immediately after that. We fundraise throughout the year as well as plan and prepare for the upcoming marathon,” said Dachis.

“The students involved really dedicate a huge amount of their time and energy for the kids. It’s an amazing thing to step back and realize what a dedicated group of college students can accomplish. With all the bad impressions that many college students promote, it’s great to be a part of such a caring and committed organization, with such a strong passion to help kids. We like to say we are all part of the dance marathon family and it really is an accurate depiction of the closeness in our organization,” said Dachis.

Is Your School Thinking of Planning A Dance Marathon? Look Out For These Been-There Tips

“The most challenging part to plan for dance marathon would be all the arrangements for the day of in terms of having things delivered, setting up, tearing down in a limited amount of time, etc. The Executive Board is divided into committees and each committee has certain responsibilities so it is important to make sure that everyone is organized and working together,” said Pierce.

“I think the first step is obviously to find a cause that people on campus are passionate about. If it’s one person who has this idea to start a dance marathon, he or she would need to recruit a few other really passionate people to be the leaders (Executive Board). Once a cause is selected, it would probably be most helpful to really lean on that organization and try to find some experience there. Together with the cause’s advisor and ideally an advisor from school, the Board would have a good team to start.”

Pierce advises newcomers to “think big but be realistic.” “Realize that they (the dance marathon committee or school) would be laying the groundwork for a great future of dance marathon events. The first year will be extremely challenging, but also really informative and it would be important for the leaders to document everything so that they could pass that on to the next year’s leadership. Learning all those lessons is only valuable if that information stays with the organization so that no one ever has to repeat mistakes or re-learn those same lessons on their own.” Greg Perlstein.

“We constantly strive to increase awareness of our organization and our cause on the Wash University campus, on the campuses of area universities and high schools, in the St. Louis community, and with potential corporate sponsors. As we continue to grow our organization, we are looking to give more people the opportunity to support Children’s Miracle Network (of Greater St. Louis)through our initiatives. Although we do set goals for the number of participants we hope to recruit and the amount of money that we hope to raise each year, our number one goal continues to revolve around improving the lives of the children who are being treated at Children’s Miracle Network’s two hospitals in St. Louis,” Greg Perlstein.

Set Goals For Your Dance Marathon Every Year

“As an organization our three main priorities for this year are equally important to us and we like to remember to keep them first whenever making decisions. First, spread awareness about Ryan White and his strength and courage in fighting his battle against AIDS. His battle was not only against the disease itself but the prejudices that went along with it and we try to educate campus and participate in similar causes whenever we can. Second: to raise money for the kids. Obviously we always want to raise more than the first year and this year is a significant year for us after raising 920,386.20 last year (you’ll notice we came very close to a million) we want to surpass that even farther. We would be the youngest student-organization and dance marathon to raise that amount in our 17th year and such a feat would be tremendous for the kids. We know any amount really does help and the third thing we always try to remember is to have fun. We are students in college, after all and our love for dance marathon is in part because of the family of support we get from each other as an organization. We wouldn’t be as successful as we are if we didn’t enjoy what we did,” said Dachis.

“Raising awareness and press are always difficult to obtain and trying to get people to care and have as much passion as we do is also sometimes a struggle. It’s hard to say what is most challenging, because like event planning, things are always difficult in all areas when trying to raise awareness, money and participation when our full-time job is a student and this is all on top of that. It helps to have a strong council and peers that you can go to and to stay organized and on top of things. Planning 36 hours for 1000 people isn’t easy and nothing goes perfectly and you always have to keep in mind that you’re doing it for the kids. Whenever I’m stressed or at loss for an answer or feel like giving up you have to remember why you’re doing it in the first place and things always seem to just fall into place. We’ve learned that in Indiana at least, Riley stands alone—it is well known to almost everyone I deal with Indiana University Dance Marathon and I never have to convince anyone that Riley is a place they should care about, they almost always already do,” said Dachis.

“First and foremost, putting on an event of a very large scale with a VERY small budget (is a challenge). Our university student union, faced with its own funding constraints,
can only allocate an amount less than half of our budgeted expenses.Thus we are constantly trying to cut costs where we can withoutsacrificing the quality of our event and to depend on the generosityof other university student organizations and area businesses.” said Pierce. “Secondly, Dance Marathon’s numbers have more than doubled each of the past two years. We face the great task of planning to accommodate an ever-growing number of participants! This task includes feeding and clothing (each dancer gets a t-shirt in the color of his/her team)over 800 dancers!” said Pierce. The school does not have any event sponsors, though they are currently looking for them for the coming year.

Choose A Charity That Is Close To Your Heart

“We raise money for Children’s Miracle Network, which in turn divides the money evenly between two local children’s hospitals, SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and St. Louis Children’s Hospital,” said Pierce. Both are in St. Louis, MO. Children’s Medical Network is located in Chesterfield, MO.

The Indiana University Dance Marathon raises money for Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana. “Specifically; our money supports the Ryan White Infectious Disease Center at Riley. We are the sole source of funds for the center. Our money has been collected in an endowment at the hospital and we are halfway to raising enough to where the center will be completely self-funded and self-sustaining with interest. Riley Hospital for Children is a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, the only in the state of Indiana and the only comprehensive pediatric hospital in the state that will treat children regardless of their financial ability to pay, something that means a lot to us. Riley Hospital also treats the most critically ill and injured children in Indiana and there doctors are the top 1 percent of their specialties nationwide,” said Dachis. “We wear our Riley shirts with pride and love the idea that the money we help raise is going to such a lifesaving and wonderful place.”

Encourage Dancers To Start Fundraising Early

Some dancers begin fundraising in the spring, but the majority of dancers do not start until September or October. We do not have pledge system necessarily, each dancer is responsible for raising $150 in whatever manner in which they wish to do so. There are a variety of tools available to help them achieve this goal. By far the most popular and one of the most effective fundraising tools is our Letter Writing Campaign. We provide a basic template letter that people can fill out online to either send by email or by the postal service to their friends and family. They can send as many as they wish with no cost to them. They can also add a personal message to the pre-written letter, which has information about the dance marathon and Children’s Miracle Network. Some teams in the past have organized breakfast or dinner fundraisers where they sell plates for a few dollars to other students. Other teams have put on a Date Auction where both dancers and some Executive Board members were auctioned off. We actually plan on doing that again this year. We try to provide students with some sort of template or some ideas that they can make their own,” said Pierce.

“Dancers can ask for donations whenever they decide to dance and donors will donate a general amount for the entire event. All dancers are strongly encouraged to dance the entire time and we look at our marathon as a whole and not as individual hours,” said Dachis.

A Dance Marathon Is Truly A Unique Experience

“The Indiana University Dance Marathon is not something someone can really understand until you see it and dancing isn’t something you can grasp until you do it. Last year’s slogan was ‘we dance because we can, we stand for those who can’t’ and it really is true. It’s been sad by one of our past presidents that the Riley kids we help are lucky because of the money we raise, but we really are the ones that consider ourselves lucky—to be part of such an organization working hard for such an extraordinary cause really is the chance of a lifetime everyone should experience,” said Dachis.

A dance marathon is a wonderful idea for a fund-raiser for a school to hold for a charity or organization. It is a great way to show school pride and spirit. This is the perfect high-energy fundraiser to get your student body involved!

Posted on 09 August 2007

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