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. Dance marathons, endurance movement contests and derbies can be traced back to London in 1364. 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.[1][2] 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,[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] Marathons could last anywhere from a few hours to a couple days.


1920s and 1930s[edit]

Dance marathons became popular in the United States during the Great Depression.[4] 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, the intent to participate was to break Cummings's record, but later on, people began to compete to win different prizes,[5] which could range from money to publicity.[6]

Dance marathons were a huge hit during the Great Depression because they allowed people to get out and do things that they enjoyed doing. Contestants and spectators frequently got involved with contests because they provided them with food, shelter and the opportunity to earn cash prizes.[7] This was a huge deal during the Great Depression because so many people were struggling to get by and because the contest provided food, it provided people with a meal.


One 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.[8] Contestants were only allowed to leave the dance floor for hygienic or medical purposes, to change clothing, or for other similar circumstances.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

Opposing groups[edit]

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 some that opposed the marathons.[12] 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 the time period. Women's groups were upset because they thought it was unethical to charge spectators to watch the dancers humiliate themselves.[13]

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 received 5th place.[14] 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.[15]

Charity dance marathons[edit]

Over 250 colleges and high schools nationwide participate in dance marathons of some sort to raise money for the Children's Miracle Network.[16] Each year, students organize and host different types of dance marathon events in which participants stand on their feet for 12–40 hours straight.

THON at Pennsylvania State University[edit]

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 Pennsylvania State University to raise money to combat children's cancer. THON was started in 1973 by the university's Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council, and in its first year raised more than $2,000. Today, it is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world[17][18] and raised $9,563,016.09 at the 2011 THON event, pushing the overall total since 1977 to more than $127 million. In 2013, THON raised $12,374,034.46 and in 2014 raised $13,343,517.33.[19] 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. Today, Penn State's THON has raised over $100,000,000 towards cancer research.

Indiana University Dance Marathon (IUDM)[edit]

In 2013, the 23rd annual Indiana University Dance Marathon, commonly referred to as IUDM, raised $2,622,123.21 for the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.[20] To date, IUDM has raised over $17 million for the Ryan White Infectious Disease Center at Riley.[21]

University of Florida Dance Marathon[edit]

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. In the 20 years of DM at UF, more than $10.5 million has been donated, which makes it the most successful student-run philanthropy in the southeastern United States. In 2015, DM at UF broke records with a total of $2,015,307.17 raised for the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals at the University of Florida Health Shands Children's Hospital.[22]

Northwestern University Dance Marathon (NUDM)[edit]

Founded in 1972, 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. 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 38 years, NUDM raised more than $13 million for 30 different charities.[23][24]

University of Maryland Terp Thon[edit]

Terp Thon at the University of Maryland was founded in 2009 and has since raised over $1.8 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.

Other schools[edit]

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.[25] 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.[26] 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 3.4 million in 8 years for the B Positive Foundation, and holds its 12-hour event every March. Most recently, in March 2015, UDance efforts raised $1,282,103.30 for the Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation.[27]

Other colleges that have dance marathons include: University of Georgia, The Ohio State University,[28] University of Louisville, University of Texas at Austin, University of Kentucky, University of Southern California, Indiana University, University of Central Florida,[29] 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,[30] 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.[31]

Popular culture[edit]

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 the play Marathon '33 based on her memoir Early Havoc, which included elements of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? The play starred Julie Harris, and briefly ran on Broadway. An episode in season three of Gilmore Girls "They Shoot Gilmores, Don't They?" features citizens of Stars Hollow competing in an annual dance marathon.


  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. ^ Solis, Kimberly. "Dance Marathons." Love to Know. January 1, 2015. Accessed March 22, 2015.
  8. ^ “Dance Marathon” Sonny Watson’s January 1, 2013. Accessed April 8,2015.
  9. ^ Farrel, James. "The dance marathons." Melus 18, no. 1 (Spring93 1993): 133. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed March 22, 2015).
  10. ^ “Dance Marathon” Sonny Watson’s January 1, 2013. Accessed April 8,2015.
  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. ^ Becker, Paula. "Dance Marathons of the 1920s and 1920s." August 25, 2003. Accessed March 22, 2015.
  15. ^ Jensen, K. Thor. "10 Fads That Killed People." Mandatory. January 10, 2013. Accessed April 8, 2015.
  16. ^ "About Us". Dance Marathon. 
  17. ^ Hurst, David (2009-02-22). "PSU gives back with THON". The Altoona Mirror (Altoona Mirror). Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  18. ^ McCormack, Lauren (2009-02-02). "Penn State's THON a charitable tradition". The Daily Local News (Daily Local News). Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ "IU Dance Marathon Raises Record $2.6 Million for Riley Hospital for Children". Indiana University. 
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  25. ^ [ Stanford Dance Marathon]
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  29. ^ "Knight-Thon UCF Dance Marathon". 
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