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  Northwestern University
May 24, 2001
Vol. 16, No. 29  
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Dance Marathon

Marathon dancing

[click image to enlarge]

Dance for dollars one of nation's biggest fundraisers

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 prize.

"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 local bands.

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 Foundation.

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.

Celebrity appearances 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.

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Northwestern University, Sesquicentennial Office, 1936 Sheridan Road, 3rd floor, Illinois 60208;
Monica Metzler, Director. 847-491-1500; . Last revised 05/25/01.
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