Dance Marathon 2013 goes back to its roots, promotes sustainability

Lauren Caruba, Assistant Campus Editor

In 1975, a group of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity brothers decided to organize a dance marathon on Northwestern’s campus for the first time.

Creating fliers on typewriters and actively promoting the event on campus, the brothers invited Chicago musicians and disk jockeys to provide live entertainment. Twenty-one couples participated in the competition-style event, which was held at the newly opened Blomquist Memorial Gym and lasted for 52 hours before a winning couple was declared. The marathon raised over $9,000 for the Epilepsy Foundation of America and the National Association for Retarded Citizens.

Roy Elvove (Communication ’75, Medill ’76) said he and his brothers were simply trying to organize a “terrific event.”

“We had no clue it would be repeated the following year,” Elvove said. “We just wanted to do the best job that we could with the task at hand.”

Now in its 39th year, NUDM has evolved into a staple in campus culture, recognized nationally as one of the most successfully college philanthropies. Breaking the $1 million mark for the past two years, NUDM saw more than 1,400 students register to dance this year, the most ever.

Kicking off Friday night at 7 p.m., NUDM 2013 is going back to its roots in promoting epilepsy research and awareness. This year’s primary beneficiary is the Danny Did Foundation, an organization dedicated to preventing sudden unexplained death in epilepsy, and the Evanston Community Foundation, NUDM’s second beneficiary for the past 16 years.

A major difference in NUDM this year is its partnership with Associated Student Government’s Sustainability Committee and the University’s sustainNU campaign to make the event carbon-neutral for the first time.

NUDM executive co-chair Matt Larsen said as one of the largest events on campus, NUDM has a responsibility to be mindful of its impact on the environment. Energy usage will be monitored throughout the dance, food waste will be composted and dancers will be using water bottles instead of the disposable cups used in past years.

“I remember when I was a dancer my sophomore year, I would go through 30, 40 cups throughout DM because you can’t just carry it around with you,” the Weinberg senior said. “It’s just a waste.”

He added that NUDM plans to build off of this year, hopefully increasing its energy efficiency each year.

Additionally, NUDM committee members have also been striving this year to make NUDM more than just one weekend in March.

To integrate NUDM more throughout the school year, the organization split its Emcee magazine into three installments, published during Fall Quarter, mid-Winter quarter and just before the event. The Top Chef event was also held on campus for the first time on the ground floor of Norris University Center.

“We really want to put a special emphasis on the year-round Dance Marathon,” Larsen said. “We don’t just want it to be a 30-hour event.”

Another part of that, Larsen said, was connecting students more with the beneficiary.

Extending NUDM throughout the year is something Danny Did Foundation executive director Tom Stanton took to heart. Expressing the desire to “be partners with Northwestern immediately,” foundation members attended fundraising events throughout Fall and Winter quarters, Stanton said.

“It was important to use to take part in the entire experience,” he said.

Even after DM is over, the Danny Did Foundation is planning to maintain contact with NU students after the dance, Stanton said.

Organizers of NU’s first dance marathon said they never could have predicted that their event would grow into such a significant part of NU’s campus life.

“Now it’s become such a big thing,” said Don Altschuler (Communication ’75), who organized the first marathon with Elvove. “I don’t think any of us could have imagined that it would not only survive but prosper and get better after all these years.”

Flying into Chicago from New York City on Friday night, Elvove said this year he wants to experience NUDM “vicariously” through his son, Weinberg freshman and former Daily staffer Zachary Elvove, who is a communications co-chairman on NUDM’s public relations subcommittee.

“This thing has taken on a life of its own,” Elvove said. “It’s a real tribute to students over the years.”