By Corey Inscoe
Carrboro Commons Co-Editor
Sitting on the floor in Fetzer Gym B, I didn’t know what to expect. Hundreds of other dancers were sitting around me organized into 24 teams, each wearing a different color T-shirt. Countless colorful banners with random quotes, statistics and jokes covered the walls. Butch Davis, the UNC-Chapel Hill football coach, stepped onto the miniature stage at the front of the room and thanked us all for what we were about to do.
Then, just a couple minutes after 7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 20, we counted down from 10 and rose to our feet. When the count reached zero, the silver door connecting the two gyms opened and the mass of students charged through the tunnel and into the other room.
The 11th UNC Dance Marathon had begun.
Since 1999, the UNC Dance Marathon, a symbolic 24-hour stand in Fetzer Gym on UNC-CH’s campus, has raised more than $2 million for children at the N. C. Children’s Hospital in Chapel Hill. This year, a record 1,800 students signed up for the marathon and raised almost $400,000, about $70,000 more than last year.
“Rock and Roll All Nite”
Gym A was dark when I reached the other end of the tunnel. Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Nite” blasted through speakers that were suspended from the rafters above the stage set up at the front of the gym. The stage was flanked by two large projector screens. A disco ball and lights hung above the dance floor.
Twenty-four members of the morale committee, whose job is to get dancers registered and to generally get people excited about the marathon, charged onto the stage wearing beach and ocean-related costumes. A powerful techno beat shot through speakers, followed quickly by ‘N Sync’s “I Want You Back.”
Like it or not, I would hear a lot more of that song over the next 24 hours. The morale committee used it to call the dancers into the main room. They even made up new lyrics to the song and a line dance for us to do while it played. The new lyrics referenced university and pop culture events like Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympic Games, the UNC women’s soccer team winning their 20th national championship and the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
Members of the operations committee, wearing gray T-shirts and walkie-talkie headsets, scurried around making sure everything ran smoothly. They had been planning this event since the beginning of the school year with 250 other students serving on various committees that make up the UNC Dance Marathon staff. Since last August, the organizers worked to book entertainment, find food to feed the dancers and, most importantly, get students to sign up to dance.
After checking to make sure there was no home basketball game during the weekend, I was finally convinced by a friend to sign up to be a dancer. I had never done it before and wasn’t sure how I was going to raise the required $100 donation to the children’s hospital, much less stay on my feet for a full 24 hours. E-mails to my extended family solved the money issue. Now I had no excuse not to dance the night away.
The first 12 hours of the marathon was a blur of loud music, dancing and performance groups. It seemed like every group on campus performed at some point during the night, including dance groups, fraternity and sorority step teams and a cappella groups.
In addition to the dance party in the main gym, Gym B offered other distractions like basketball, video games and the world’s largest crossword puzzle, the size of a whole wall. I passed a few hours learning how to juggle with the help of a professional street performer.
By 7 a.m., the distractions wore thin and I felt an ache creeping from my feet to the back of my knees. It was only the halfway point, and I started to wonder if I would be able to make it 12 more hours. But the organizers had a little treat for the weary dancers.
After doing the line dance yet another time — by this point, I was finally starting to get the hang of it — we walked outside and across Stadium Drive to Kenan Memorial Stadium where the UNC Marching Tar Heels drumline welcomed us as we walked down the stadium stairs.
All the dancers walked around the football field while the drums played. It was still dark outside, but when the drums finished and music started pumping through the speakers, a purple glow could be seen out coming from behind the scoreboard. As I watched the sun rise over the trees, I stopped thinking about my legs. I had renewed vigor, and I knew I was going to make it the full 24 hours.
But that, of course, was easier said than done. After breakfast and a rave party complete with loud techno music and glow sticks, the leg ache had returned and brought a friend to my lower back.
The final steps
The second half of the marathon went much like the first. I danced just to keep my feet from hurting. Dancers stood in awkward yoga positions, did handstands against the wall and even went to the bathroom just to give their feet a rest. We went outside one more time to have lunch in the grassy area around the Bell Tower.
After lunch, it was all downhill. At 3:30 p.m., the main gym switched from a dance party into a viewing party of the UNC men’s basketball game on the big screens over the stage. Watching the game gave me a distraction and those last few hours flew by.
After being on my feet for about 23 hours, the throbbing pain was quite comfortable in my tired legs. And to make matters worse, UNC lost to Maryland. But all of that – the loss, the ache, the exhaustion – went away when the families walked onto the stage and told their stories.
For the kids
With all the excitement and activities going on during the Dance Marathon, it’s easy to forget why you’re there. As the slogan says, all of this is “For the Kids.” In the last hour of the marathon, called family hour, all the dancers saw where the money goes that they work so hard to raise.
The money raised goes into the For the Kids Fund that, “provides for expenses not covered by insurance or Medicaid that families may not otherwise be able to afford,” according to the UNC Dance Marathon Web site.
During family hour, two families and a patient from the hospital talked about their experiences, ranging from extremely premature babies to a girl dealing with the difficulties of cerebral palsy. They repeatedly thanked the dancers for what they had done. The combination of physical and mental exhaustion and heart-wrenching stories brought tears to my eyes as the hundreds of dancers stood huddled together in front of the stage.
Then the climax came. The overall committee, comprised of the 13 committee chairs and overall coordinator, came onto the stage with signs tucked to their chests. One-by-one, to the beat of the music, they raised the signs above their heads: “$394,278.94!!!” The gym exploded with joy. Balloons and confetti covered the dance floor. All the dancers cheered and jumped around, forgetting that they had been on their feet for 24 hours.
At 7:09 p.m. on Saturday, there was a countdown from five. At zero, everyone sat down. A hardwood floor has never felt so good. Then, it was all over.
I was surprised that I wasn’t at all tired. That quickly changed. I slept for 14 hours straight. But I would do it again in a second, for the kids.