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Dance Marathon, a Big Weekend Benefit

An all-nighter, minus textbooks

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Students dance the night away during the 2007 Dance Marathon.

Hundreds of students are planning to pull an all-nighter this weekend, but they won’t be studying. They’ll be taking part in Boston University’s annual Dance Marathon, a charity event that raises money to fight pediatric AIDS.

“It’s pretty amazing,” says cochair Abby Schreer (COM’10), who became involved in the event as a freshman. “It’s a very motivating environment.”

This year’s marathon takes place from 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, to 9 a.m. on Sunday, March 28, in the Sargent Gym. Participants hope to raise $50,000 for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation and the nonprofit Camp Heartland. “If Penn State’s dance marathon can raise almost $8 million, we can raise $50,000,” Schreer says.

Dance marathons originated as a fad (along with flagpole sitting and six-day bicycle races) during the 1920s and persisted through the 1930s. Couples danced for hundreds of hours, sometimes for as long as two months at a time. The longest marathon took place in Spokane, Wash., in 1935, and lasted 1,638 hours.

Contestants were guaranteed shelter and 12 meals a day — a luxury during the Great Depression — and rules required that they remain in motion for 45 minutes every hour. Dancers slept in shifts by tying their wrists around their partners’ necks and being lugged across the dance floor. Winners received hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars.

BU’s event does not have the intensity of those marathons — participants will stay on their feet for 18 hours — but it’s probably more fun. Themes ranging from Disney and ’80s music to sports and pajama parties will be introduced throughout the night, with prizes awarded to dancers with the best costumes.

“People start to fade at about 2 a.m.,” Schreer says. “The themes help to break up the monotony.” And plenty of food is available to keep up flagging energy levels.

An avid dancer, Stephanie Santana (CAS’10) participated in Dance Marathon in 2008 to test her endurance. “It was a lot of fun,” she says, “but by the end, all I wanted to do was stick my feet in a bucket of ice water.”

Dance Marathon began in 2003 as a collaboration among the Inter Fraternity-Sorority Council and Pan-Hellenic Council, the Student Union, Students for Camp Heartland, and BUnited. More than 100 dancers, volunteers, visitors, and “moralers” (who help dancers keep their energy up and feet moving during the 18-hour marathon) raised $30,000. Now the marathon is the biggest annual fundraiser on campus and has brought in more than $300,000 to date.

The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation reaches more than a million women each year with services at more than 750 sites in 20 countries. Its goal is to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Camp Heartland is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children, youth, and families facing HIV/AIDS, poverty, and grief. It offers a free week of summer camp to children from around the country and from all backgrounds affected by, or infected with, HIV/AIDS.

Dance Marathon participants are required to raise at least $150. Registration is closed, but supporters can donate by logging onto GoodSearch; the Web site donates one penny every time a user visits and searches for “Boston University Dance Marathon.”  

For live coverage of the all-night affair, visit the Dance Marathon 2010 blog. More information is available here or by contacting Abby Schreer at aschreer@gmail.com.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @vickywaltz.

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