This weekend, over 800 students gathered in the Dow to take part in Dance Marathon — one of Hope College’s greatest traditions. Energy was high, silly dancing occurred, and almost $400,000 were raised in support of the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. Along the way, Hope students got the life changing opportunity to bond with the children and families supported by their donations.
Dance Marathon has been a tradition for 24 years now. Over its lifetime, Dance Marathon has raised 3.6 million dollars for charity, and this year was no exception to that trend of generosity.
The premise is simple: stay active for 24 hours straight while raising money for charity. There are plenty of other activities that students can participate in besides dancing, such as corn hole, nine square, and even chess. Regardless of the activity, every dancer remains standing for the full 24 hours, honoring the children in the hospital, some of whom are unable to stand at all.
This year, there were 14 different roles that students could have, ranging from director to event management to morale squad. The student organizers of the event are known as the Dream Team. Every position got their own color of T-shirt. The two most common colors were white, representing “dancers” who signed up for the full 24 hours, and yellow for “moralers” who took part in one of the three eight hour shifts. Both were supported by the indigo shirts of the morale squad, dancers especially committed to keeping the energy high, as well as a rainbow selection of other roles and their respective colors.
Dance Marathon 2023 kicked off at 5:15pm in the BSC with an informational meeting for dancers and moralers that covered the ground rules of Dance Marathon. Dancers sorted themselves into their teams, with groups representing Greek Life, dorm halls, athletic teams, and more.
Following the initial briefings, dancers and moralers marched onward to the Dow in high spirits where the marathon officially began. The morale squad took the stage first, performing the ‘morale dance.’ Set to a medley of songs, the morale dance is an approximately 10 minute routine created by the morale squad each year. Throughout the event, the morale squad would take the stage at the start of almost every hour to teach a portion of the dance to the rest of the students at the event.
During the marathon, there were also miracle family presentations. The term ‘miracle family’ refers to any family with a miracle child receiving treatment at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. The presentations consisted of introductory speeches by family members followed by videos detailing their children’s conditions as well as their inspiring journeys along the way. Though each story was different, they all exemplified resilience and hope.
Many of the families stayed for most of the event, giving their miracle kids an opportunity to interact with Hope students. Miracle children joined in the games, playing nine square, and bouncing on the inflatables with the dancers. The children have a wide variety of medical conditions, from heart issues to neurological disorders. However, the unifying feature amongst all the children is an unbroken sense of excitement and joy.
There were a number of planned events throughout the night to entertain both dancers and miracle children alike. These ranged from a professional magic show to Zumba to Great Scott, a live band who played covers of popular music. Hope students also provided performances including features from the Chapel Worship Team and Hope’s a cappella group, Luminescence.
At midnight, the lights were dimmed for the annual Dance Marathon rave, a favorite amongst returning moralers and dancers. The rave lasted for an hour, complete with a laser light show and DJ providing techno-music. Dance Marathon organizers distributed glow sticks to the whole crowd, which added an extra layer of neon and fun to the party.
Another popular tradition that made its return for this year’s Dance Marathon was the lip sync battle, in which dancers from each of Hope’s Greek organizations choreograph a dance to a snippet from a popular song.
Despite a tough contest, the Sibyllines managed to take home a victory out of the sororities with a humorous performance over Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash” that was complete with shower caps and towels. The Arcadians pulled off a routine to Katy Perry’s “Firework” that involved one dancer standing on another member’s shoulders and ending in a trust fall into the arms of his brothers that secured their victory. For their prizes, both organizations received $1,000 donations into their team’s fundraising page for the marathon.
There were plenty of other opportunities throughout the night for dancers to earn money for their teams. Teams could compete to raise funds during the multiple donation pushes. During one event, the entire marathon managed to raise $25,000 in just 20 minutes.
“That’s just incredible to me, the power we all have when we’re all working towards something,” says Matt Czmer, a member of the Dance Marathon Family Relations Committee.
Czmer, ‘24, acts as a link between a miracle family and the organization of Dance Marathon. He recounts that one of the hardest parts of working with his miracle child, Graham, is simply keeping up with him. Last year, Graham participated in Dance Marathon despite having his arm in a cast. He suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), which renders his bones significantly more brittle than normal.
“[It’s cool to] see how tough he is,” says Czmer. “He breaks all these bones, and then today he’s running around and keeps asking me to go on the bounce house…he just wants to be a normal kid, because he is a normal kid.”
The toughness, joy, and energy of the miracle children was sorely needed as the marathon neared its full 24 hours for the dancers and morale squad. After 20 hours of standing, exhaustion began to set in. As Cam Sejna (’23) described, “the knowledge I [could] just sit at any time” is one of the toughest struggles. However, these physical difficulties do not even compare to the hardship that the miracle children have experienced, and this 24 hour hard work ultimately drove profound impact.
As the clock ticked its final moments of the marathon, the Dream Team stood before the crowd, with members holding a sheet of paper with a single digit on it. One by one they turned the numbers, revealing a grand total of $384,336! This is a new, all-time record for Hope College, and shatters last year’s total by a staggering $30,000 as well as the organization’s initial goal of $365,000 for this year! Teams cheered and hollered with resounding joy as miracle families cried, expressing their overflowing gratitude for the staggering amount of generosity. Faces beamed while students and families exited the Dow as a sense of hope ran through the air.
Students create a tunnel for miracle families at Hope College Dance Marathon 2023 on Mar. 3rd and 4th. (Photo credit: Owen Harries)