Dance marathons (or marathon dances) are events in which people dance or walk to music for an extended period of time. They started as dance contests in the 1920s and developed into entertainment events during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Before the development of "reality shows", dance marathons blurred the line between theatre and reality. Also known as endurance contests, dance marathons attracted people to compete as a way to achieve fame or win monetary prizes. The 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, based on the 1935 novel of the same title written by Horace McCoy, a bouncer at several such marathons, popularized the idea and prompted students at Northwestern University, Pennsylvania State University, Indiana University, Ohio State University, the University of Florida, the University of Kentucky, the University of Iowa, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to create charity dance marathons. Marathons could last anywhere from a few hours to several weeks.
Dance marathons became popular in the United States during the Great Depression. The popularity of dance marathons began in 1923 when a woman named Alma Cummings danced continuously for 27 hours with six different partners. After Cummings established her record, dance marathons became common in the United States. Initially, participants competed in order to break Cummings's record, but later on people began to compete to win prizes, which could range from money to publicity.
Dance marathons were a huge hit during the Great Depression as they provided contestants and spectators food, shelter and the opportunity to earn cash prizes, at a time when many people needed a meal and free entertainment. The dances were popular at this time not only because these events supplied basic human needs to both the contestants and audience, but are also popular due to the sadistic pleasure, or power the audience felt through watching the contestants compete in the grueling event.
The depression era marathons faded in the public's enthusiasm in the late 1930s due to increased municipal ordinances and the decreased number of towns where the seamier side of the promotions were unknown. The improving economic conditions and the American entry into World War II also contributed to their demise.
Rules vary widely, but one common rule of the marathon stated that the participants could not fall asleep, although some marathons would allow one part of the team to sleep as long as their teammates continued dancing. It was important for the team to keep moving because if they stopped, they would be disqualified from the contest. Contestants were only allowed to leave the dance floor for hygienic or medical purposes, to change clothing, or for other similar circumstances. A mixture of other elements were incorporated in the marathons including elimination sprints, raffles, mud wrestling and fake weddings of competitors. Oftentimes, the type of music played at a dance marathon changed throughout the duration of it. It consisted of a mix of slow and upbeat music to give the contestants breaks and also keep them going and energized. Spectators were allowed to come in and watch the marathon and the contestants competing. Often, viewers were able to pay 25 cents to watch the marathon for as long as they wished.
Although many people supported marathons because they were sources of entertainment, there were outside groups that opposed the marathons. Some external groups did not like what the marathons were doing to participants. Movie theater owners, church groups, and women's groups were among those that opposed the marathons. Movie theatre owners were unhappy because people were paying to watch the marathons instead of attending films. Churches were unhappy with the way that the contestants danced with each other as it was not socially acceptable during the time period. Women's groups were upset because they thought it was unethical to charge spectators to watch dancers humiliate themselves.
In 1928, Seattle passed an ordinance prohibiting dance marathons within city limits when a woman attempted suicide after competing in a 19-day marathon and receiving 5th place. Other states followed Seattle's precedent shortly after. Although marathons were extremely popular, they were also dangerous. During a marathon in the 1920s, a man named Homer Morehouse was the first contestant to dance in the marathon, but after dancing for 87 hours, he collapsed from exhaustion and died on the dance floor.
Today, over 250 colleges and high schools nationwide participate in dance marathons of some sort to raise money for children's hospitals. Some raise money under the Children's Miracle Network and with their help, while others are entirely student-run and operate to benefit partnered charities. Each year, students organize and host different types of dance marathon events in which participants stand on their feet for 12–46 hours straight.
Some US student-run dance marathons include:
The Penn State Dance Marathon, commonly referred to as THON, is a 46 hour dance marathon which takes place every February at Pennsylvania State University to raise money to combat children's cancer. THON was started in 1973 by the university's Interfraternity and Panhellenic Councils and in its first year raised more than $2,000. Today, it is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world which has raised over $157 million since 1977. In 2011, THON raised $9,563,016.09, in 2013, $12,374,034.46 and in 2014, $13,343,517.33. In 2020 THON raised $11,696,942.38. The money raised is donated to the Four Diamonds Fund, a charity devoted to defeating pediatric cancer through research and treats patients at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center Children's Hospital.
DanceBlue , one of the University of Kentucky's most-loved traditions, is a 24-hour no sitting, no sleeping dance marathon and is the fastest growing student-ran philanthropy in the Southeastern Conference. Entering its 15th year, over $15.3 million dollars has been raised by students, faculty/staff, corporate donors, and mini-marathons held by high schools around Kentucky. Money raised goes into the Golden Matrix Fund, which was established in 2006 to benefit the DanceBlue Kentucky Children's Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic both today and well into the future through an endowment. In its 15 years, DanceBlue has been able to fund numerous projects and programs. In addition to small but important patient support programs such as the “Beads of Courage” program that each child receives after cancer treatments, this fund has been able to allow the hiring of vital staff in the clinic such as a Childlife Specialist who provides encouragement and distraction to help the child emotionally handle their diagnosis and the treatments. Finally, the support of the Golden Matrix Fund has recently allowed for the construction of a new Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic that has expanded the capacity of the clinic as well as providing a more convenient and comfortable experience for the families. In 2019, DanceBlue raised $1,880,954.88 for the Golden Matrix Fund.
Founded in 1975, Northwestern University Dance Marathon, commonly referred to as NUDM, is one of the nation's largest student-run philanthropies. The event unites more than 1,500 students, faculty, and staff to participate in the 30-hour dance-a-thon at the end of the winter quarter in early March. Unlike other Dance Marathons, NUDM changes which charity it primarily supports from year to year. The primary beneficiary is chosen each May, and will receive 90% of all funds raised throughout the year. The other 10% is donated to the Evanston Community Foundation (ECF), which then uses this gift to allocate grants to local Evanston charities. NUDM 2020 will be the 23rd year where ECF has been the secondary beneficiary. With 1,000 dancers and over 500 committee members who work throughout the year to help organize the event and raise awareness, NUDM is a Northwestern tradition. In 2014, NUDM raised its highest total to date, $1,385,273 to benefit Team Joseph. In 45 years, NUDM raised more than $20 million for over 30 charities.
The Indiana University Dance Marathon, commonly known as IU Dance Marathon or IUDM, is a 36-hour Dance Marathon that takes place every November at Indiana University with the purpose of raising both funding and awareness for pediatric care. In 1991, student Jill Stewart started IU Dance Marathon in honor of her friend, Ryan White, who died from AIDS the year before. Since then, IUDM has raised over $32 million for Riley Hospital for Children, including $4,203,326.23 during the 2017 marathon year. IUDM currently supports the Wells Center for Pediatric Research and Riley Hospital for Children.
Dance Marathon at University of Florida, commonly referred to as DM at UF, is an annual 26.2 hour dance marathon that takes place every March or April to benefit patients at the University of Florida Health Shands Children's Hospital in Gainesville. Each year, more than 800 students stay awake and on their feet to raise money and awareness for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. In the 25 years of DM at UF, more than $21.4 million has been donated, which makes it the most successful student-run philanthropy in the southeastern United States. In 2019, DM at UF broke records with a total of $3,230,025.23 raised for the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals at the University of Florida Health Shands Children's Hospital.
The University of Iowa Dance Marathon was founded in 1994 and provides financial and emotional support to pediatric oncology and bone marrow transplant patients treated at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital. Over the past 24 years, the University's largest student organization has raised $24,548,226.30 for the children's hospital. In 2018, UIDM raised a total of $3,011,015.24, making it the second Miracle Network Dance Marathon in the country to raise over three million dollars. After a ten-year, $5 million leadership gift to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital's building campaign, the 11th floor was named the UI Dance Marathon Pediatric Cancer Center. Since then, the student-run group has donated over $2.2 million to create the UI Dance Marathon Pediatric Oncology Targeted Therapy Program and $2 million to establish the first student-funded chair position at the University of Iowa, the UI Dance Marathon Chair in Pediatric Oncology, Clinical and Translational Research.
Dance Marathon at the University of Michigan (DMUM) was founded in 1997 and raises funds awareness for pediatric rehabilitation therapies at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, part of the University of Michigan Health System, and Beaumont Children's Hospital. The money raised for these programs allows DMUM families to participate in various pediatric rehabilitation therapies. Participants of DMUM volunteer at these therapies in order to build relationships with the children who benefit from these programs. Every March, participants of DMUM stand for over 24 hours at Michigan's Indoor Track and Field to show their dedication to the children, families, and hospitals they support. In 2017, DMUM raised over $510,000 for the kids.
Terp Thon at the University of Maryland was founded in 2009 and has since raised over $4.2 million For The Kids at Children's National Health System in Washington D.C. 100% of the fundraising efforts go directly to Children's National so that no family is turned away due to their inability to pay. Terp Thon creates events throughout the year to aid fundraising and awareness efforts. Each year, Terp Thon continues to break records and in 2014 became the youngest dance marathon to enter the Top 10 Dance Marathon programs in the country. In 2015, Terp Thon raised more than $600,000. In 2017, Terp Thon raised over $1 million becoming the youngest ever Dance Marathon to accomplish this.
Purdue University Dance Marathon, commonly referred to as PUDM, was founded in 2005 and has since raised over 7.9 million dollars for the kids at Riley Hospital for Children. PUDM consists of a number of fundraising events throughout the year all leading up to an 18-hour dance marathon each fall. PUDM is the largest student-run organization on Purdue's campus. In 2018 PUDM raised a record setting 1.2 million dollars.
With more than one beneficiary, FSU's dance marathon benefits children's causes and has raised more than $6 million since 1996. The 2018 campaign raised a total of $2,152,382 for Children's Miracle Network, surpassing the previous year's record by $322,214.
Rutgers University Dance Marathon (RUDM) is the largest, student-run philanthropic event in New Jersey. RUDM's mission is to provide emotional and financial support for children who are a part of Embrace Kids Foundation. RUDM participants dance to help raise funds and awareness that goes towards Embrace Kids Foundation's mission to support the non-medical needs of children with cancer, sickle cell, and other serious disorders. Since 1999, RUDM has raised over $6.8 million for Embrace Kids Foundation. The money raised has helped countless families in the tri-state area cope with the numerous challenges of pediatric cancer. All the money RUDM raises goes directly to Embrace Kids Foundation and helps support the non-medical needs of children with blood disorders and cancer. In 2017, RUDM managed to surpass the coveted goal and raised over a million dollars for the cause.
New York Dance Marathon (NYDM) is New York University's Dance Marathon on campus benefiting the Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation. NYDM began as a collective movement between the Fraternity and Sorority members on NYU's campus in September 2012. NYU's inaugural dance marathon, took place on November 23, 2013, and with an original goal of $46,000, NYDM surpassed this raising $126,020.66. This became the most successful first year dance marathon in US history. NYDM's inaugural year inspired not only the NYU Fraternity and Sorority members, but the entire NYU community. In five years time, NYDM has raised over $1,700,000 for the B+ Foundation.
RaiseRED Dance Marathon is the largest student-run philanthropic organization at the University of Louisville and hosts the largest event on campus. RaiseRED is an 18-hour dance marathon that takes place in February to celebrate a year of fundraising efforts. All of the money that is raised benefits the research and funding of the University of Louisville Pediatric Oncology and Hematology Clinic. With the help of raiseRED, the clinic has been able to make research advancements in immunotherapy, and fund a full-time social worker to support the families and children being treated. RaiseRED began in 2014 and raised $150,000 and has since raised $2.4 million for the clinic. In 2019, raiseRED raised over $685,000 for pediatric cancer and blood disease research.
Dance Marathon at UCLA, in its 11th year in 2012 and raised a total of $3 million, benefits the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Project Kindle, One Heartland, and the UCLA AIDS Institute. South Glens Falls High School's dance marathon SHMD has raised over 6.3 million dollars over the past 40 years, and donates the money to those who need it in their communities along with organizations. They raised $823,000 in 2017. Stanford's Dance Marathon benefits primarily Partners in Health and FACE AIDS, and they also choose a local beneficiary each year. UDance Marathon at the University of Delaware has raised over 3.4 million in 8 years for the B Positive Foundation, and holds its 12-hour event every March. Most recently, in March 2016, UDance efforts raised $1,701,667 for the Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation.
Other colleges that have dance marathons include: West Virginia University, Syracuse University, Hope College, Western Michigan University, Elon University, University of Georgia, The Ohio State University, University of Texas at Austin, Texas State University, University of Kentucky, University of Southern California, Indiana University, University of Central Florida, Florida State University, University of Alabama, Auburn University, Rutgers University, Stanford University, Bowling Green State University, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, University of Connecticut, Washington University in St. Louis, UCLA, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina, Louisiana State University, North Carolina State University, Wake Forest University, Ball State University, University of Iowa, Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa, University of Michigan, Purdue University, University of Florida, University of South Florida, University of Utah, University of Missouri, Clemson University, University of South Carolina, Temple University, Vanderbilt University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, SUNY New Paltz, Indiana State University, Creighton University, Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, Georgia College, and DePaul University.