Dance marathon

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Marathon dancing, 1923

Dance marathons 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. Well 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.[1][2] A 1969 film about the fad, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, based on the 1935 novel of the same title written by Horace McCoy, who was a bouncer at several such marathons,[3] popularized the idea and prompted students at Northwestern University, Pennsylvania State University, Indiana University, Ohio State University and the University of Florida to create charity dance marathons.[citation needed]

1920s and 1930s[edit]

Dance marathons, endurance movement contests and derbies can be traced all the way back to 1364 in London and became very popular in the United States during the depression years.[4] The popularity of dance marathons began in 1923 when a 32-year-old woman named Alma Cummings danced continuously for 27 hours with six different partners. It wasn't long after Miss Cummings established her record that dance marathons became popular in the United States. These marathons would last anywhere from a few hours to a couple days. Although initially the intent to participate was to break Cummings's record, later on people started competing to win different prizes. [5] Prizes could range from money to even some stars who were trying to seek publicity.[6] The rules of the marathon were that the participants could not fall asleep, although, some marathons would allow one part of the team to sleep as long as the other member held them up. It was important for the team to continue to keep moving because if they stopped they would be disqualified from the contest.[7] Contestants were only allowed to leave the dance floor for hygienic or medical purposes, changing their clothing, or anything along those lines.[8] Oftentimes the type of music played at these dance marathons would change throughout the marathon. It would be a mix of slow and upbeat music so that it would give the contestants breaks and also keep them going and energized.[9] People were allowed to come in and watch the marathon and the different contestants compete to win. There was a cost to get into the marathon; often, spectators could pay twenty-five cents to watch the marathon as long as they wished.[10]

Dance Marathons were a huge hit during the Great Depression because it allowed people to get out and do things that they enjoyed doing. Contestants and spectators oftentimes would get involved with the contest because it provided them food, shelter and the prospect of earning a cash prize.[11] This was a huge deal during the Great Depression because so many people were struggling to get along that since the contest provided food it was a meal for people who didn't know how else to survive. Also the marathons allowed the spectators to feel a bit of superior watching the contestants stumble around the dance floor while they were exhausted.[12] While so many people were supporting the marathons because it was a source of entertainment, there were different groups that were opposed by the marathons. Different groups did not like what the marathons were doing to the different dancers that were taking part in the marathons. Movie theater owners, church groups, and women's groups were some that were opposed by the marathons.[13] This was because the marathons were taking away revenues from the movie theaters because people were paying to watch the contests instead of attending films. Churches were unhappy with the way that the contestants danced with each other because it was not socially acceptable during this time period, and women's groups were upset because they thought it was unethical to charge spectators to go watch the dancers humiliate themselves.[14] Seattle passed an ordinance prohibiting dance marathons in city limits in 1928 when a Seattle woman attempted suicide after competing in a 19-day marathon and placed only fifth.[15] Many other states followed with the ordinance shortly after. Dance marathons were extremely popular but also were dangerous. During a dance marathon in the 1920s, a man named Homer Morehouse was the first contestant to kick off the marathon, but after dancing for 87 hours he collapsed from exhaustion and died on the dance floor.[16]

Charity dance marathons[edit]

There are over 250 schools (colleges and high schools) nationwide that participate in dance marathons of some sort to raise money for the Children's Miracle Network.[17] 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".[18]

A modern charity dance marathon at Pennsylvania State University

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[19][20] with $9,563,016.09 having been raised at the 2011 event, pushing the overall money total since 1977 to over $127 million. In February 2013, THON helped raise $12,374,034.46 and in 2014, THON raised $13,343,517.33.[21] 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.[22] To date, the 36-hour IUDM has raised over $17 million for the Ryan White Infectious Disease Center at Riley.[23]

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 20 years of Dance Marathon at UF's existence, more than $10.5 million has been donated, making it the most successful student-run philanthropy in the Southeastern United States.[1] In 2015, DM at UF broke records with a total of $2,015,307.17 for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals at UF Health Shands Children's Hospital.[24]

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.[25][26]

Other colleges that have dance marathons include the University of Georgia, The Ohio State University,[27] University of Louisville, University of Texas at Austin, University of Kentucky, University of Southern California, Indiana University, University of Central Florida,[28] 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,[29] 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, Temple University, Vanderbilt University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and DePaul University.[30]

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.[31] 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.[32] 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.

Terp Thon was founded in 2009 at the University of Maryland. It was originally called Dance Marathon but the name was changed in its second year. 100% of the fundraising efforts goes directly to Children's National Health System, no family is turned away at Children's National Health System because of their inability to pay. Terp Thon has created many events throughout the year to aid the fundraising and awareness process. Each year Terp Thon has been breaking records and in 2014 they became the youngest dance marathon to enter the top ten dance marathons in the country. This year, 2015, they set out to raise $600,000. The event for 2015 is March 7.

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.[33]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Camus, Renee. "Dance Marathons", U.S.A. Twenties, Grolier, 2004 ISBN 0-7172-6019-4, 2005 paperback ISBN 0-7172-6013-5
  2. ^ Calabria, Frank M. (1993-01-01). Dance of the sleepwalkers: the dance marathon fad. Popular Press. ISBN 9780879725709. Retrieved 2010-01-24. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ "Dance Marathon." Sonny Watson's Street January 1, 2013. Accessed April 8, 2015.
  5. ^ Solis, Kimberly. "Dance Marathons." Love to Know. January 1, 2015. Accessed March 22, 2015.
  6. ^ “Dance Marathon” Sonny Watson’s January 1, 2013. Accessed April 8,2015.
  7. ^ “Dance Marathon” Sonny Watson’s January 1, 2013. Accessed April 8,2015.
  8. ^ Farrel, James. "The dance marathons." Melus 18, no. 1 (Spring93 1993): 133. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed March 22, 2015).
  9. ^ “Dance Marathon” Sonny Watson’s January 1, 2013. Accessed April 8,2015.
  10. ^ Solis, Kimberly. "Dance Marathons." Love to Know. January 1, 2015. Accessed March 22, 2015.
  11. ^ Solis, Kimberly. "Dance Marathons." Love to Know. January 1, 2015. Accessed March 22, 2015.
  12. ^ Solis, Kimberly. "Dance Marathons." Love to Know. January 1, 2015. Accessed March 22, 2015.
  13. ^ Solis, Kimberly. "Dance Marathons." Love to Know. January 1, 2015. Accessed March 22, 2015.
  14. ^ Solis, Kimberly. "Dance Marathons." Love to Know. January 1, 2015. Accessed March 22, 2015.
  15. ^ Becker, Paula. "Dance Marathons of the 1920s and 1920s." August 25, 2003. Accessed March 22, 2015.
  16. ^ Jensen, K. Thor. "10 Fads That Killed People." Mandatory. January 10, 2013. Accessed April 8, 2015.
  17. ^ "About Us". Dance Marathon. 
  18. ^ "About Us". Dance Marathon. 
  19. ^ Hurst, David (2009-02-22). "PSU gives back with THON". The Altoona Mirror (Altoona Mirror). Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  20. ^ McCormack, Lauren (2009-02-02). "Penn State's THON a charitable tradition". The Daily Local News (Daily Local News). Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ "IU Dance Marathon Raises Record $2.6 Million for Riley Hospital for Children". Indiana University. 
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  28. ^ "Knight-Thon UCF Dance Marathon". 
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  31. ^ [ Stanford Dance Marathon]
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