This past weekend Hope College hosted its twenty-second annual Dance Marathon. Over the course of the school year, almost a thousand Hope College volunteers raised over $350,000 to support Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital by hosting fundraisers, selling merchandise, collecting donations and offering services. There’s a good chance you know someone who was involved in this event, and if you’re curious to know more about what they have experienced, this is your place to start. This week, the Anchor talked with longtime Dance Marathon participant Miguel Castelan Hernandez (’23) to hear more about how the event went, what it’s all about and who gets involved.
Dance Marathon is a nationwide series of events held by Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and Hope’s chapter has been active since 2000. The goal of these fundraisers is to raise money for “Miracle Families,” local families with children who need frequent hospital care. On Hope’s campus, people sign on to dance in groups, which also collect funds together and compete for the highest earnings. The fundraising lasts for the entire school year up to the event itself near the middle of the spring semester, and it concludes with a 24-hour session of dancing, hence the name “Dance Marathon.” By 24 hours, the organizers do mean 24 hours—each dancer stays awake and moving for the duration of the event. How does this feel? “Staying awake for 24 hours…yes, it hurts, but it’s nothing compared to the things these kids go through,” Hernandez says.
The dancing is not the only attraction of the night, however; a support team of moralers runs activities to keep the dancers energized and entertained. They offer everything from dance lessons to sports to games. Different decorations and contests keep the day from feeling monotonous. The sense of team effort for a valuable cause is ever-present both on the day of the marathon and during the fundraising.
This year was the first year fully back in person after COVID caused a hybrid Dance Marathon last March. Hernandez described his own busy night, saying, “I taught dances beforehand, and then during the actual twenty-four hours, I was doing all of the activities. I was playing cornhole, I was teaching songs, I was playing in bouncy castles, I was getting to know the different families and their stories.” Other activities included competitions, musical groups from campus and dance instructors from the Holland community. By the end of the night, Hope College volunteers had raised $350,428 for Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
Everyone’s experience of Dance Marathon is different, though there are some common elements. Most students join because they consider it a good cause and a fun way to contribute to the community. Students have many different reasons for getting involved, though. “For me personally, at the age of 14, my brother had open heart surgery at Helen DeVos,” says Hernandez. “Luckily for us, we had insurance and a donor who helped cover some of it, but if my parents had to pay out of pocket, he wouldn’t have been able to get that surgery. I’ve been doing Dance Marathon every year to help give back, so other families who might not have been able to afford their treatments have that chance.”
When reflecting on his past experience with Dance Marathon, Hernandez noted that the support of friends and community members has been invaluable: “My freshman year I had a couple of friends who brought me food and slushies, and some others who show up in the middle of the night to tell me, “You got this! Keep going!” Stuff like that is what keeps us going when we’d rather lie down on the floor and fall asleep.”
For those who want to get involved in next year’s Dance Marathon, there is a myriad of ways to do so. “You can just sign up online if you want to be a regular dancer—a lot of times it’s advertised at the beginning of the school year. If you want a connection to the miracle families, you can go to the Dance Marathon fair and sign up with a committee. If you have friends in the same residential hall as you, you can all join together and create a team for your hall—this year we had, like, a team from Dykstra and a team from Lichty and so on,” says Hernandez. “I recommend it to anyone who can do it. Give it a try! It doesn’t matter what year you’re in or how much experience you’ve got. You can make an impact on a family’s life.” For more information, you can visit https://hope.edu/offices/student-life/dance-marathon/ or check their Facebook @hopedancemarathon. If you aren’t confident in your abilities as a dancer, that’s alright, too—the best and easiest way you can help is by donating.