March Madness Comes Early: Reflections on the Biggest Dance of All
A collective sigh ran through Fetzer Gym on Saturday, Feb. 18, as about 2,000 students were told that they could sit down — for the first time in 24 hours. I was among the relieved participants at UNC’s 14th annual Dance Marathon — happily collapsing alongside other sweaty bodies who had pledged to stand for an entire day “for the kids” at UNC Children’s Hospital.
I say that I was a “participant” because I cannot say that I was a “dancer.” I’d “moraled” at Dance Marathon last year and seen the haunted ghost-like faces of people I only half-recognized as fellow friends and classmates. Their looks had been enough to discourage me from ever pledging to such a grueling 24-hour task. But I still believed in the cause: to raise money to help families with children undergoing treatment at UNC Children’s Hospital to pay for medical bills and other expenses. And so, again this year, I signed up to moral (which basically means I danced for about seven and a half hours, a long time, but certainly nothing like an entire day).
There are two benefits to being a moraler. The first is rather obvious: You don’t have to stand nearly as long. But the second one is vastly more important: You have the perfect excuse to dress up in a crazy costume. This year’s theme? Mission Possible. So, I slipped on a little black dress, some heels and a pair of shades and made my way to the gym, like any other legit detective agent.
Allow me to digress for a moment to add, for the uninitiated, that Dance Marathon includes a lot more than just dancing. Sure, you have your everyday 6 a.m. rave and if you don’t learn a few line dances while you’re there, then you’ve learned to fall asleep standing up, but you do a lot more than dance at Dance Marathon. The entertainment never ceases. From visits by basketball and soccer players to serenades by the Clef Hangers and Loreleis, to the almost-magical appearance of life-sustaining Ben & Jerry’s ice cream a few hours before the finale, there’s certainly never a dull moment.
One of the most poignant moments of the marathon was when I had the chance to meet a few of the children who get treated at UNC Hospitals and who benefit from the marathon’s fundraising efforts. My friend, Elise Hopkins, who volunteered with these children on Dance Marathon’s hospital committee, introduced me to a little boy named Jake Ellis, who was patiently (albeit eagerly) waiting in line for a balloon creation, courtesy of UNC’s Jest for Fun club. The organization, which specializes in juggling and magic tricks, entertained us all by shaping balloons into ram horns and tiaras (both Carolina blue, of course). And no one could match the delight of little Jake, who proudly strutted around in a UNC basketball jersey, brandishing a powder blue balloon sword and a pair of ram horns to boot.
But the balloons were only the beginning of the celebration. In the final hour of the marathon, parents with children at UNC Hospitals shared touching stories about the importance of the cause. Then, after a beautiful a cappella rendition of a very compelling song (perhaps with more sleep, I would still be able to recount the title), moralers mounted the stage to reveal a record-breaking grand total: $483,210.36 raised. With each digit written in colorful bold marker on large poster board, I had difficulty seeing the total, which ran from one end of the stage to the other. All I knew was that we’d never raised more money, and all I heard were the ecstatic screams, and, moments later, equally ecstatic sighs, as we were told that we could finally sit down.
Twenty-four hours after kick-off, a dance much madder than the one coming in March had finally ended. And the reward was much greater than any trophy or net-cutting. In 24 hours, we had helped change lives. The confetti and balloons that fell moments later could not begin to describe the festive atmosphere. Nor could 2,000 blissful smiles perfectly capture the elated feelings that pulsed through the room. Even my photographs, documenting each pivotal moment, can’t quite recall those exact emotions. Only one thing can. All I can say is that next year, I’m dancing.
Emily Palmer, a sophomore global studies and creative writing student from Durham, is an intern for the Carolina Alumni Review
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