On Friday night, loud music and energized voices yelling and laughing could be heard from Fetzer Gym. And the buzz continued for quite a while: until 7 p.m. on Saturday night – just a bit less energized.
The UNC Dance Marathon, the largest Carolina For The Kids fundraising event and cumulative celebration of the year, kicked off Friday night at 7 p.m., with dancers preparing to tackle 24 hours of no sitting and no sleeping.
“It really shows people, ‘Oh wow, this is really hard to stand for 24 hours and not to sleep for 24 hours,” said Public Relations Chairperson Marissa Devine. "But I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to worry about my child and be awake for 24 hours and to not know what they’re going through or not to be able to be in their state."
Eleven committees with over 300 members and about 1,200 student dancers all rallied together for the cause of raising money and providing support for the UNC Children’s Hospital.
Each dancer was required to raise at least $200 in order to participate, with the choice of dancing for either 12 or 24 hours. The total amount of money raised over the span of the year was revealed at the conclusion of the marathon Saturday night, adding up to $440,955.07 and beating the 2018 total.
And since the first UNC Dance Marathon in 1999, officially renamed as Carolina For The Kids in 2015 to broaden the organization’s scope of events, $6 million has been raised for the cause.
Why a dance marathon?
Because it’s a UNC bucket list item, Devine said. And unlike other events, the families with members in UNC Children's Hospital come on stage during “family hour” at the conclusion of the marathon and tell their stories, allowing dancers to directly see and understand the impact of what they are doing.
Additionally, the Dance Marathon serves as a symbolic representation of a day in the lives of the families, and participants glimpse a tiny part of the hardships they might face, Devine said.
For the dancers, this fact gave them a strong sense of purpose.
“I stand for the kids that are unable to stand,” said Nicole Wesche, dancer and committee member. “By standing, that’s why I wanted to get involved, to really make a difference and help make the life of a child who is in the hospital better because they are already going through so much.”
The planning and preparation for the annual Dance Marathon starts as early as April, almost a year in advance, and CFTK hits the ground running in August, at the beginning of the school year.
This includes anything and everything from finding sponsors, reserving buildings, booking performers and planning food orders, to organizing activities to keep the dancers spirited – such as a UNC men’s basketball game watch, performances from campus groups such as a capella ensembles and the Carolina Jump Rope Club and even an 8 a.m. “rave” to wake them up. Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz even came to visit.
The set-up process and preparation was a tiring experience, said Executive Director Bryant Gilchrist. It started Wednesday and included a ten-hour shift on Thursday.
But when the lights came up and the stage was set, that’s when the feeling of happiness came.
“Once you see the people, it’s just like an overwhelming kind of joy,” Gilchrist said. “Because once you see everything that you’ve been working on for so long come to fruition, it really just kind of gives you that sense of accomplishment.”
The dancers also have their own motivations for participating, beyond the fun memorability of the event and experiencing this UNC bucket list item.
“When I was younger, one of my cousins was diagnosed with brain cancer. I saw how hard it was with my family – it really takes a toll on your mental, emotional and physical state,” Devine said. “I wanted to do something to help families similar to mine.”
Twenty-four hours later, the dancers were officially exhausted but felt accomplished, especially when they got to see the families tell them how grateful they are for CFTK and their hard work.
“Seeing that and them come through on stage and tell their story, it just definitely makes it all worth it,” Wesche said. “Because I really only have given and done a little bit, but yet it makes such a huge difference in the lives of a child.”
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