A dance marathon is an event in which people stay on their feet for a given length of time. It started as a popular fad in the 1920s and 1930s, when organized dance endurance contests attracted people to compete to achieve fame or win monetary prizes. A 1969 film about the fad, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, based on the 1935 book of the same name, written by Horace McCoy, who was a bouncer at several such marathons, popularised the idea, and prompted students at Northwestern University, Pennsylvania State University, Indiana University, the University of Florida, and The Ohio State University to create charity dance marathons.
1920s and 1930s
One notable account of marathon dancing comes from the early chapters of Anita O'Day's memoir, High Times Hard Times: "It seems unbelievable now but there were once fifteen thousand people – promoters, emcees, floor judges, trainers, nurses, cooks, janitors, cashiers, ticket-takers, publicity agents, promotion men, musicians, contestants and even a lawyer – whose main source of income over a number of years came from endurance shows." Photographs from several marathons, menus of food served to dancers at different times of day, the benefits claimed for marathons by promoters, and much rare information about them is preserved in "Souvenir Booklet: The Dance Marathon" (1932), published by R. M. Edwards in Rochester, Indiana. This booklet, which is unrecorded on WorldCat, states on the back cover "This little booklet is sold to you by one of the contestants and they have benefited by a liberal percentage of the receipts, and they THANK YOU!." Above this claim were lines for the autograph of that contestant and the name of the marathon.
Charity dance marathons
There are over 150 schools (colleges and high schools) nation wide that participate in dance marathons of some sort to raise money for the Children's Miracle Network. Each year, students from different schools organize and host different types of dance marathon events in which participants stand on their feet for 12-40 hours straight. Dance Marathon's mission statement is "We dance for those who can't".
The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, commonly referred to as 'THON, is a 46 hour-long dance marathon that takes place every February at the Pennsylvania State University with the purpose of raising money to combat children's cancer. It was started in 1973 by the University's Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council, and in its first year, more than $2,000 was raised, with 39 couples dancing for 30 hours straight. Today, it is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world with $9,563,016.09 having been raised at the 2011 event, pushing the overall money total since THON's inception to over $78 million. In February 2013, THON helped raise $12,374,034.46 and in 2014, THON raised $13,343,517.33. The money that is raised is donated to The Four Diamonds Fund, a charity devoted to defeating pediatric cancer through research and caring for patients at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center Children's Hospital. Today, Penn State's THON has raised over $100,000,000 towards cancer research.
In 2013, the 23rd annual Indiana University Dance Marathon (IUDM) raised $2,622,123.21 for Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. To date, the 36-hour IUDM has raised over $17 million for the Ryan White Infectious Disease Center at Riley.
Dance Marathon at the University of Florida, commonly referred to as DM at UF, is an annual 26.2-hour dance marathon that takes place every March/April benefiting the patients of University of Florida Health Shands Children's Hospital in Gainesville, Florida, United States. It is the largest student-run philanthropy in the Southeastern United States that includes over 2,000 student volunteer and more than 800 students stay awake and on their feet to raise money and awareness for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. In the 19 years of Dance Marathon at UF's existence, more than $6.4 million has been donated, making it the most successful student-run philanthropy in the Southeastern United States. In 2013, DM at UF raised a record total of $1,169,722.16 for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals at UF Health Shands Children's Hospital.
Founded in 1972, the Northwestern University Dance Marathon (NUDM) is one of the world's largest student-run philanthropies. The event brings together more than 1,500 students, faculty, and staff to participate in the 30-hour dance-a-thon at the end of the winter quarter. The primary beneficiary is chosen each May, and over 300 committee members work throughout the year to help organize the event and raise awareness. In 2013, NUDM raised $1,214,632 to benefit The Danny Did Foundation. In its 38-year history, NUDM has raised more than $13 million for 30 different charities.
Other colleges that have dance marathons include the University of Georgia, The Ohio State University, University of Louisville, 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, 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, University of South Carolina, and Temple University.
Rutgers' 30-hour Dance Marathon has raised over $4 million for Embrace Kids Foundation, which aids families of children with cancer and blood disorders with non-medical needs. 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. The University of Iowa Dance Marathon was founded in 1994 and in 2013 raised $1,529,650.19 to support oncology patients being treated at the University of Iowa Children's Hospital. Stanford's Dance Marathon benefits primarily Partners in Health and FACE AIDS, and they also choose a local beneficiary each year. The Dance Marathon at the University of Michigan (DMUM) raises money to support programs at the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, part of the University of Michigan Health System, and William Beaumont Hospital. The money raised for these therapies allows DMUM families to participate in various therapies. Participants of DMUM volunteer at these therapies in order to build relationships with Dance Marathon children. Every March, Participants of DMUM stand 30 hours at Michigan's Indoor Track and Field to show their dedication to the children, families, and hospitals they support.
UDance Marathon at the University of Delaware has raised over 1.4 million in 7 years for the B Positive Foundation, and holds its 12 hour event every March. Most recently, in March 2014, UDance efforts raised $850,376.75 for the Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation. 
In popular culture
- A dance marathon contest is the premise of the season three finale of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, "The Gang Dances Their Asses Off."
- June Havoc wrote a play entitled Marathon '33, based on her memoir Early Havoc, with elements of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? The play starred Julie Harris, and ran briefly on Broadway.
- The season three episode of Gilmore Girls "They Shoot Gilmores, Don't They?" features the citizens of Stars Hollow competing in an annual dance marathon.
- "Dance Marathons" by Renee Camus, in: U.S.A. Twenties, Grolier, 2004 hardcover ISBN 0-7172-6019-4, 2005 paperback ISBN 0-7172-6013-5
- Frank M. Calabria, Dance of the sleepwalkers: the dance marathon fad. Popular Press, 1993, ISBN 0879725702. 1993-01-01. ISBN 9780879725709. Retrieved 2010-01-24.
- Carol J. Martin, Dance marathons: performing American culture of the 1920s and 1930s. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1994, ISBN 0878057013. 1994. ISBN 9781604737684. Retrieved 2010-01-24.
- High Times Hard Times, Anita O'Day, pg. 34.
- "About Us". Dance Marathon.
- "About Us". Dance Marathon.
- Hurst, David (2009-02-22). "PSU gives back with THON". The Altoona Mirror (Altoona Mirror). Retrieved 2009-02-23.
- McCormack, Lauren (2009-02-02). "Penn State's THON a charitable tradition". The Daily Local News (Daily Local News). Retrieved 2009-02-23.
- "IU Dance Marathon Raises Record $2.6 Million for Riley Hospital for Children". Indiana University.
- "Knight-Thon UCF Dance Marathon".
- [dm.stanford.edu Stanford Dance Marathon]
"Souvenir Booklet: the Dance Marathon: Intriguing – Amusing – Sensational – Entertainment" copyrighted R. M. Edwards, Edico Inn, Rochester, IN (1933?)
- Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon
- Indiana University Dance Marathon
- Dance Marathon at the University of Florida
- UConn HuskyTHON
- UDance Marathon at the University of Delaware
- Dance Marathon at Florida State University
- University of Alabama Dance Marathon
- UGA Miracle Dance Marathon
- University of Central Florida Dance Marathon
- University of South Carolina Dance Marathon
- University of Iowa Dance Marathon
- Dance Marathon at the University of Michigan
- Michigan State University Dance Marathon
- Northwestern University Dance Marathon
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln Dance Marathon
- Buckeyethon at The Ohio State University
- Purdue University Dance Marathon
- Wisconsin Dance Marathon
- Dance Marathon at UCLA
- University of North Florida Dance Marathon
- Mira Loma Dance Marathon
- Steve Stefani SHS Dance Marathon
- Terp Thon at University of Maryland
- University of Kentucky DanceBlue
- South High Marathon Dance
- University of Missouri Dance Marathon
- Dance Marathon at North Carolina State University
- Rutgers University Dance Marathon
- Dance Marathon at USC
- University of Northern Iowa's Dance Marathon
- HootaThon at Temple University