April 12, 2005

Dancers boogie in Ratner to help AIDS effort

Students in the College redefined what it means to "dance the night away" at the University of Chicago Dance Marathon (DM) 2005 this past Saturday. Sixty-three students danced in the Competition Gym at Ratner from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., raising a total of $11,887.12—$2,000 over what past DMs have brought in—to benefit pediatric AIDS.

The funds from DM, an annual event sponsored by the Council on University Programming (COUP), will go to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which funds pediatric AIDS research and victim relief worldwide, and the Children's Place Association, which provides medical, psychological, emotional, and social assistance to children and families affected by AIDS in the Chicago area.

The simplicity of DM's rules contrasts with the physical ardor required of the participants: The dancers could not sit for 12 hours. While their task was grueling, dancers had support from "moralers." "My role as a moraler was essentially to keep my friends' spirits up throughout the night," said third-year in the College Ian Sefferman. "By supporting my friends who were dancers, I indirectly supported their cause, which was a good feeling."

The dancers were aided by a handful of student groups that came to DM to teach various types of dance and stretches: the Folk Music Society, the Ballroom Club, University Ballet, the Chicago Swing Dance Society, and the South Asian Students Association all brought their specialties to DM. Other student groups such as the Environmental Concerns Organization, the Korean Student Organization, the Culinary Club, Peer Health Educators, and Alpha Phi Omega helped out with setup, decorations, and snacks for the dancers throughout the 12 hours.

A variety of guest speakers shared words of encouragement with the dancers, including Stephen Klass, vice president and dean of students in the University; Bill Michel, assistant vice president for student life; and Janet Meyers, director of development at the Children's Place Association. A handful of Northwestern University students, who participated in a similar DM at their school earlier this year, also visited.

The COUP Board planned for months in order to make DM run smoothly. Starting in August, Dance Marathon Event Chairs John Paul Jewell and Maylea Ma contacted The Children's Place Association to build a relationship with the organization as a new beneficiary, as well as confirming with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Preparation continued throughout both fall and winter quarters, with a major change in location only weeks before the event: "About one month before our DM we decided to change venues from Ida Noyes to Ratner, so we had to rethink our planning and order different equipment, etc. that was suited to the gym," Jewell said.

COUP Board Member Shewanna Manning was pleased with changes that were made to this year's DM, including the venue switch. "Ratner is a much better location than Ida for various reasons, and I think that 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. was a good time change from last year's 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.," she said.

While organizing such a large event was not an easy task, Jewell certainly feels that it was worth it. "Even though DM took so much time and hard work, even when things got stressful, I just reminded myself of the little kids and their families that we were helping," he said. "I don't think it is possible for any of us—dancers, volunteers, moralers—to fully understand the importance of raising awareness and funds to fight pediatric HIV/AIDS and help families affected by it."

Students who participated by dancing were equally satisfied with their contributions of time, energy, and money. "I had such a wonderful time at Dance Marathon," said first-year dancer Erica Yamamoto. "Though it was a tiring 12 hours, the satisfaction that came from contributing to such an important cause as pediatric AIDS certainly outweighed the exhaustion and I'm looking forward to participating again in next year's DM."

Members of COUP were extremely pleased with this year's DM, especially Jewell: "By the end of the night I was so thrilled by how well DM went that I busted out my moves and danced JP-style through the soul-train line. That says a lot."