Dance Marathon Fights Recession, Raises $917K

Matt Spector and Brian Rosenthal

Updated March 8Check out The Daily’s DM blog for full coverage of the 30-hour event.

With more dancers than ever, two new emcees and a new venue, Dance Marathon 2009 rocked its way to a fundraising total of $917,834, about $16,000 less than last year’s record-breaking total.

Dance Marathon’s primary beneficiary, Project Kindle, a foundation that holds camps for youth effected by HIV/AIDS, received $576,470. DM gave their secondary beneficiary, the Evanston Community Foundation, $64,052.29.

Brett Avila, Project Kindle’s midwest regional manager of programs and development, was one of the recipients of the check during DM 2009’s final block.

“All I could see were all these people looking at me with this pure, altruistic, wanting to change the world look,” Avila said. “There was no word to describe it, it was just a feeling. It was awesome.”

This year, more than 1,000 dancers registered to participate in Dance Marathon – for DM 2008, 750 dancers registered.

The 30-hour marathon was held in a tent on the East Lawn of Norris University Center. During last year’s DM, dancers were split between Norris’s Louis Room and a smaller tent on Norris’s South Lawn. Before DM 2008, Dance Marathon was housed only in the Louis Room.

The annual philanthropy event raised the bulk of its money during one of the worst economic recessions in American history. Finance Committee Co-Chair Peter Koelsch said the recession was a concern for his committee, but added he was still pleased with the final total.

“The economy got some people worried,” the Weinberg senior said. “We probably, obviously, lost some donors or sponsors, but at the same time I think overall we fared pretty well. In a better economy, would the total have been higher? Probably. But we’re pretty happy with it. Very happy, actually.”

In the fundraising competition, the combined group of Zeta Beta Tau and Delta Gamma philanthropies raised $101,713, besting the large groups by about $70,000. The medium group award went to the combined efforts of Kappa Alpha Theta and Sigma Phi Epsilon, and Jones Residential College won the small group competition.

Communication senior Lauren Berry raised the most money of any DM committee member and the pair of SESP senior Cameron Combe and Weinberg senior Margaret Chernin won the couple competition.

The majority of the more than half a million dollars donated to Project Kindle will go toward the purchase of their own camp site, Avila said. The foundation currently rents sites for its camps. An additional $100,000 will be allocated to local HIV/AIDS education.

The plan is to name the site’s main building after DM, Avila said.

“I’ve never seen a more dedicated group of students do anything,” he said.

Project Kindle campers like 16-year-old Danny said they couldn’t have predicted the grand total.

“It was crazy how much money we raised,” Danny said.

The campers spent time on stage at various points throughout the event, and celebrated on center stage for the last half hour.

“It made me and everybody else feel like we were celebrities,” Danny said. “It made us feel that we had people that had our back.”

Many of the campers were Project Kindle ambassadors, getting the opportunity to get to know the DM executive board and members of the NU community.

This year’s Dance Marathon also featured two new emcees: Benjamin Singer, a Communication junior, and Scott Olstad, a Medill junior and Daily staffer. The pair replaced Todd Johnson, Medill ’08, and Adam Welton, Communication ’08, or TnA, who had emceed the event for the past four years.

During the event, Singer and Olstad urged dancers to stay hydrated, recycle and keep dancing. Singer said he was deeply affected by the Project Kindle ambassadors’ stories, which he said left him in tears several times.

All the kids have such a positive outlook on life despite what it’s given them, or maybe because of what it’s given them,” he said.

The emcees said they saw the “big picture” of DM.

“We really are changing the world a little bit at a time,” Singer said. “Helping people really gets people motivated to do anything. It was heartwarming.”

During the ninth block, Welton and Johnson made a surprise appearance and led the crowd in a rendition of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.”

DM executive board members, including Public Relations Co-chair Carley Ribet, worked to make DM responsive to the needs of dancers and committee members. Last year’s final block was marred by two medical emergencies, and Ribet said the executive board took extra precautions this year to make Norris University Center and the tent safe for dancers, committee members and visitors.

“We got great feedback from dancers,” the Medill senior said. “We were able to keep Norris as our home, which was important to us. And everybody was safe and everybody was happy and that’s what matters to us.”

This year, a female Alumni & University Relations and Public Relations committee member suffered a seizure on Saturday afternoon. She was taken to Evanston Hospital for treatment. Details are forthcoming.

McCormick sophomore Nick Renold said his favorite moment of the night was “the reactions of the beneficiaries and sharing it with all of the thousand people.”

“I was pretty emotional just seeing how bit of an effect it had on the beneficiaries,” he said. “I definitely want to do it next year and I want to raise more so that we’ll get to $1 million.”

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Disclosure: Brian Rosenthal is a member of the Dance Marathon Special Events Committee. Matt Spector is a member of the Dance Marathon Public Relations Committee.