Sore and blistered
feet have become a badge of honor on the Evanston campus since
1975, the year Dance Marathon -- one of the largest student-run
philanthropies in the country -- was launched at Northwestern.
During the past 26
years, Dance Marathon has raised nearly $5 million for more than
20 Chicago area charities thanks to the thousands of committed
University students who have volunteered their time and energy
for various charities.
The concept for Dance
Marathon was sparked by Cheryl Wexler Scott, the 1973 Homecoming
co-chair. At the time, she was searching for a philanthropic endeavor
to kick off the weekend festivities when she recalled a Jane Fonda
movie she had viewed the summer before. The film, "They Shoot
Horses DonÍt They," chronicles a Depression-era marathon dance
contest that attracts destitute participants to vie for a $1,500
"Despite not being
well received at first, the idea was developed and formally proposed,"
wrote Jordan Breal, in an article about Wexler and her daughter
Emily that appeared in the 2001 issue of emcee, the annual Dance
Marathon Magazine. Following in her motherÍs footsteps, Emily,
a Weinberg sophomore, was among the more than 3,000 students and
community groups and corporations who participated in Dance Marathon
this year and last.
Their combined efforts
raised a record breaking $540,257 for this yearÍs primary beneficiary,
the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and the Evanston
Community Foundation, the secondary beneficiary.
The first Dance Marathon
event on campus took place in Blomquist Memorial Gymnasium in
February 1975. It began as a fraternity philanthropy event co-sponsored
by Alpha Tau Omega and the Associated Student Government. Only
15 of the 21 couples that participated that year had the stamina
to dance for a grueling 52 hours. They danced to recordings played
by several female disk jockeys and live music performed by several
The first Dance Marathon
raised $9,105 for the American Epilepsy Foundation and the National
Organization for Retarded Citizens.
In 1976, the second
Dance Marathon was held at Patten Gymnasium and dance time was
decreased to 26 hours. The event raised $9,573 that was divided
among the same two charities. In 1977, the event was moved to
Norris University Center, where it continues to be held today.
It attracted more dancers and dance time was increased to 30 hours.
The 1977 Dance Marathon raised $22,000 for the American Epilepsy
Since 1978, a new primary
beneficiary is selected each year. Since that time Dance Marathon
funds have also benefited the United Way Crusade of Mercy, United
Cerebral Palsy, Chicago Lung Association, Arthritis Foundation,
Multiple Sclerosis Society, Juvenile Diabetes, Easter Seals, the
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Howard Brown Memorial Clinic, and
the Leukemia Society.
The Les Turner ALS
Foundation, American Diabetes Foundation, American Heart Association,
Leukemia Research Foundation, the Pediatric AIDS Ward of ChildrenÍs
Memorial Hospital, Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northern Illinois,
The Gus Foundation, La Rabida ChildrenÍs Hospital and Research
Center, ChildrenÍs Heart Foundation, GildaÍs Club Chicago, and
the Evanston Community Foundation have also reaped the financial
rewards raised by Dance Marathon-related events.
Every year, from September
to March, the variety of related fund-raising events range from
coffeehouses and canning to the final weekend of marathon dancing
and other activities geared to attract children and adults.
Each yearlong effort
culminates in an activity-filled weekend when 500 students volunteer
to dance. Each dancer raises his or her entry fee. The dancers
are cheered on by up to 15,000 visitors who pay to watch them
swing and sway to the music.
were added to the festivities in the early 1980s. The group Sha
Na Na were guests in 1981. Supermodel Cindy Crawford, who briefly
attended Northwestern, was a special guest in 1988. Chicago Bears
quarterback Mike Tomczak made an appearance in 1990.
Celebrity alumni who
have attended the event include actors David Schwimmer and Kimberly
Williams. Former Miss America and Northwestern alumna Kate Shindle
was one of the alumni guests this year, which also featured appearances
by CBS "Survivor" host Jeff Probst, Fox BroadcastingÍs "Party
of Five" star Scott Wolf, and WGN-TVÍs "Angel" co-star Julie Benz.
To show their support
and school spirit, alumni groups in New York, San Francisco, Boston,
Los Angeles and London held their own mini-marathons.
In the early days,
Dance Marathon also featured movies, fencing and karate demonstrations,
a backgammon tournament and a mime troupe. A beauty spa was introduced
in 1988. Now, hair stylists from local salons cut hair at Norris
and other professionals offer massages and manicures. A casino
was added in 1999.
There also are celebrity
call-ins, a 5K run, and a Kids Fair with games and activities
for children of all ages, including interaction with Northwestern
athletes and students. Money raising activities include a silent
auction, beer and wine tastings, and a coffeehouse with live entertainment.
Dance Marathon has
failed only once to improve on its total from the previous year.
From the impressive amount raised this year, there is every indication
that this Northwestern tradition will continue to flourish.