The return of the tent: Dance Marathon will happen in person and mask-optional this weekend


Photo by Joanne Haner

NUDM returns in person for the first time in two years this weekend.

Iris Swarthout, Assistant Campus Editor

Northwestern University Dance Marathon  — an annual event where students dance for 30 hours in an effort to fundraise for local beneficiaries — will return to the tent in-person this weekend for the first time in three years. 

For many students, like Weinberg sophomore Reese Rosental Saporito, this weekend marks their first dance marathon at NU. After roughly a year and a half of planning, Saporito, who captains the green team, can enjoy the full extent of the event on Friday and Saturday. 

“This is my second year doing DM, and my first year in the tent,” she said. “(Being a team captain) is a great way to make sure everyone involved in DM feels like they have a place and they’re welcomed.”

Students registered for NUDM are arranged into four separate teams — green, red, blue and yellow — each with roughly 200 dancers. Each team is headed by two team captains selected by executive board recommendations last year, Saporito said. 

Dance Marathon will begin at 7 p.m. Friday and continue until 1 a.m. Sunday. A livestream will be available for those unable to participate for the full 30 hours. Masks will be optional, but according to Medill senior Samara Lipman, dancers will have access to masks, gloves and sanitizing stations, among other items, throughout the event.

“There’s also going to be a space for people, if they don’t feel comfortable taking off their mask in front of everybody and eating, they’ll be able to go and have a separate space (to do that),” she said. “Do what you feel comfortable with.”

Visitors outside of NU and Dance Marathon will not be allowed inside the tent. 

Each year, Dance Marathon fundraises for two beneficiaries. This year, the primary beneficiary is Chicago Youth Programs, which provides long-term academic, emotional and mental support to young people in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago. The secondary beneficiary for the past 25 years has been Evanston Community Foundation — a public charity dedicated to serving the Evanston community. 

SESP junior Chloe Lim, NUDM’s special events co-chair, said the process of choosing NUDM’s beneficiary involves sifting through a multitude of organizations.

“It’s definitely not a … quick process,” she said. “It’s very comprehensive. We’re really excited that even through COVID-19, we were able to engage with (CYP) and work with them.”

Chicago Youth Programs’ mission

Through navigating societal inequities, CYP focuses on aspects of education related to early literacy programming, academic tutoring, crisis intervention and restorative justice programming, according to a University news release. Founded in 1984, CYP has served about 18,000 youths.

Lipman said funds raised through Dance Marathon will go toward expanding CYP’s organizational needs.

“That includes adding much needed staff positions to the team, like a social worker… that can work with families and also work like violence prevention… on a more informed basis,” she said. “Our funds will add these team positions and help expand their actual facilities.”

CYP intends on installing a modular classroom either on the south or west side of Chicago, Lipman said. 

She said being an NUDM beneficiary is a “huge deal,” as these organizations benefit from both the publicity and monetary gain of being chosen. Because the selection process is competitive, it starts as early as May the year before. 

According to McCormick and Communication senior Gillian Finnegan, an NUDM beneficiary is an organization the executive board thinks NUDM will have the biggest impact on. And to her, everyone on the executive board has had a close connection with CYP. 

“We’ve been working with the same liaison with Chicago Youth Programs for the whole time,” Finnegan said. “We’ve tried to be as connected as we can be to make sure we are always putting them first.”

Recent changes to NUDM

Before this year, NUDM allowed students to register with their own groups, whether through friends or organizations around campus, Lipman said. As a result, she said, larger groups like sororities or fraternities raised the most. 

“On the one hand, it’s great that a single team can raise $200,000,” Lipman said. “(But) what message are we sending by encouraging that versus encouraging a more inclusive environment?”

Although COVID-19 forced an in-person break from NUDM the past two years, she said a variety of societal changes have shifted the course of the organization. 

Lipman said the Abolish Greek Life and Black Lives Matter movements both caused NUDM to restructure the organization for more inclusivity. NUDM established an accessibility and inclusion committee this year, something Lipman said should have been installed years prior.

However, Lipman said having four relatively randomized dancer groups creates less incentive for students to fundraise due to their sheer size. 

“There are a ton of flaws in our system,” she said. “The great thing about Greek life teams was that people felt connected to their organizations … and because of that they fundraised.”

Still, Lim said dancer turnout is “very high” and she is excited to see a lot of new people in the tent. 

Dancers have spent the past several months fundraising for the big event. Saporito said participating in NUDM events throughout the year, like can drives at football games, helped her raise money. She added she also took the traditional route of emailing family and friends.

Both Finnegan and Lim said watching the set-up process has also been exciting. While professionals help set up the tent initially and check infrastructure before NUDM, they said most of the production is done by students themselves. 

After months of preparations and fundraising, and a two-year long waiting period, Saporito said students are excited to return to the tent.

“I look forward to getting to dance with everyone for the next 30 hours, and I can’t believe it’s in a day,” she said.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the time of the event and the COVID-19 safety protocols. The Daily regrets the error.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @swarthout_iris

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