Dancing to save a life

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The University’s chapter of Dance Marathon, a renowned philanthropic organization that has divisions at universities and colleges all across the country, held their annual event Saturday at both Memorial Gym and Boylan Heights. Hundreds of students spent their day dancing and playing with the children in support of the U.Va. Children’s Hospital, fundraising for children with cancer and other serious illnesses through the hospital’s division of the Children’s Miracle Network.

During the 14 years since the chapter was created, the organization has raised more than $600,000. This year the event raised more than $60,000, the highest amount the organization has raised in the past five years.

The final fundraising figure was announced Saturday evening at Boylan, where attendees enjoyed a live band and a choreographed fraternity dance-off.

“Funds like this make the U.Va. Children’s Hospital the premier pediatric care [center] in Charlottesville,” said Ryan Lightner, program coordinator for the Children’s Miracle Network at the University Hospital. “There are children with very severe cases of illnesses or injuries and other hospitals can’t necessarily treat [them].”

At the event, children ran around Memorial Gymnasium and danced alongside University students. At the beginning of each hour, members of Dance Marathon called everyone to the hourly “morale dance”, where participants eagerly came together in the middle of the room and danced in unison to popular songs, from “Gangnam Style” to “Thrift Shop.”

Fourth-year College student Jackie Bechara, co-chair of the Dance Marathon chapter, said part of the event’s success comes from the personal connection it achieves between the dancers and the children the event works to support.

“I just kind of signed up on a whim first year, but seeing the kids and their families really meant a lot,” Bechara said. “I could see what kind of cause it was going toward and that’s why I decided to get more involved.”

The biggest push for fundraising and publicity happen just a few weeks before the event, but gathering support for the event is a yearlong commitment for team members and members of the executive board. Organizers reached out to local businesses, corporations and, most influentially, friends and family to raise money for the event. They also held bar nights and sold food at the Corner throughout the fall semester to reach their fundraising goal.

Local businesses typically contribute gift cards and other small tokens to give out to dancers, and around $10,000 in the overall fundraising came from donations from big corporations, said the organization’s fundraising chair Anne Carter Blankenship, a third-year Commerce student. The rest of the money comes from personal donations from friends and families of the dancers, she said.

Members of the Hospital staff are appreciative of the work the Dance Marathon members put into raising money for their cause. One organizer said a pediatric researcher stopped students painting Beta Bridge to thank them.

“It’s just really heartwarming for me to work with [University students],” Lightner said. “It makes me proud to be a part of the U.Va. and Charlottesville community.”

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