Watters: Dance Marathon a life-changing Northwestern experience


Arabella Watters, Columnist

At 19, there is almost nothing more monumental than experiencing the rites of passage that have grown to characterize my life so far: getting my license, graduating from high school, the first insatiable taste of sweet freedom mixed with terror that was moving into my college dorm the first day, the less-sweet taste of what it felt like to take a final on the quarter system (it comes all too fast and hits you like a load of extremely academic bricks), winter in Evanston, etc.

But there is nothing that defines my Northwestern experience more than Dance Marathon. I don’t need to explain that we endearingly call Dance Marathon “DM” or that the entire 30-hours is a gauntlet to say the least.

I don’t think that there is anything more fulfilling that I’ve done in my whole life. As a freshman, DM seemed like just another hurdle that I had to jump in order to pack as much as I possibly could into what had been undeniably the best and most dauntingly chaotic year of my life.

Before I entered the tent, before that first weekend in March crept up slowly and then explosively just like it did this year, I hadn’t really conceptualized what DM was or what it really truly meant. Everyone was doing it, so how could I not? But DM is not just another thing to tick off the immense to-do list that is life as an NU undergrad. (There is never going to be enough time do everything; I’ve resigned myself to that sad fact.)

DM is a time that isn’t about me or my friends or how badly I did on the final I just took or what time my meeting is on Monday. DM is something that is larger than all of us. It challenges us to look outside of ourselves, to sacrifice our basic human needs for a cause that is bigger than us and a whole lot more important. The Danny Did Foundation and every single philanthropy DM has supported in the past 39 years has been bigger than us. I think that is beautiful.

There is nothing more important than the service for human beings in need. The selflessness of DM touches me every time I think of it. These are probably our most formative years in terms of cultivating our identities.

Do you ever wonder how the choices that you are making right now turn you into the kind of person you’ll be for the rest of your life? I wonder sometimes if life is less about meaningful moments and more about the spectrum of infinitely monumental experiences, the living and the breathing that sets us on fire. I don’t mean to get philosophical here, but there are only so many chances that you’ll get in your life to make decisions that can not only define you, but also to reach out, with every yearning, aching fiber of your being to become the kind of person who serves others above themselves.

We are only malleable in our selves for so long, and it makes me afraid to think about the time I have left to become the kind of person I want to be. I am on the precipice of adulthood, or maybe I’ve already teetered off the edge, and participating in DM is the kind of experience that colors in those blank spaces of the person I really want to become. It’s that life-changing of an experience.

I have never felt more alive or full of burning vitality as I did in the last seconds of DM. The moment when the clock ticked down and the money countdown was revealed is one of those rare, overwhelmingly visceral experiences in life that hit me straight in the face.

DM has the ability to create, to change, to elevate and to make us more than just the students we walk around as for the other 363 days of the year. I think that is what truly makes DM unparalleled in its excellence.

Arabella Watters is a Medill sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]