Rutgers Dance Marathon enters 18th year
More than 45 years since the Rutgers Zeta Beta Tau fraternity sponsored one of the first dance marathons nationwide, Rutgers University Dance Marathon still has University students moving to the same beat.
Now years removed from when Rutgers students danced to “The Bunny Hop” and “The Cha-Cha,” the University-sponsored marathon reached its 18th anniversary by splitting the event into two 12-hour sessions, departing from the weekend’s previous 30-hour format.
“It’s really helpful for students who are held back by their schedules (and) exams — even physical abilities,” said Gabrielle Rosario, assistant director of Public Relations for RUDM. “Having the split sessions is more inclusive for everyone.”
The two sessions — “Scarlet” and “Silver,” respectively — are nearly identical and collectively form one dance marathon event. But the new format maintains that closing ceremonies only occur at the second session’s conclusion beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday.
With the new format, only Rutgers seniors and returning dancers are allowed to dance during both sessions, said Tatiana Blackman, director of Communications for RUDM.
Even though the Rutgers Athletic Center’s capacity was well above the number of dancers last year, RUDM organizers felt that a split-session marathon was more inclusive as it avoids capping the number of participants, according to The Daily Targum.
The intended result is an increase in donations for the New Brunswick-based Embrace Kids Foundation, which helps children and families affected by cancer, sickle cell and other serious disorders. This year's RUDM proceeds will add to the $4.9 million that previous marathons raised for Embrace Kids.
“It’s obviously new for us — it’s our first year trying it — so it does come with a couple of risks, but we are really confident in the way that we planned it,” said Blackman, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “We spent a lot of time figuring the kinks out and making sure everything runs smoothly.”
Splitting RUDM into two sessions also benefits health and safety, as it provides students more recovery time before Monday classes, said Felicia McGinty, vice chancellor for Student Affairs.
“After hour six or eight, it really gets kind of tiring,” McGinty said. “I think what motivates them is that they’re doing something for these children … As long as they always keep that purpose in mind of why they’re here, and what the benefit is, I hope that (connection) is never lost.”
RUDM is one of the only — if not the only — time of the year when Rutgers students get featured for doing something positive, McGinty said.
“Rutgers students often do positive things, but the news stations will show up if there’s a mugging or something (like that) on College Avenue,” she said. “I want them to come and cover this, and see the sacrifices that students make (to run) this entire thing.”
Many of the organizers were nervous about rolling out the new format because it was breaking the multi-year, 30-hour marathon routine, Blackman said.
The new format was also influenced by several student focus groups that the RUDM organizers met with in recent months. Positive student feedback led the organizers to believe that the change was a move in the right direction, adding 562 more dancers than last year, Blackman said.
“Our ultimate goal is to always raise awareness,” she said. “The more awareness we raise, the more opportunities there (are) for us to raise funds, but raising awareness really is our No. 1 priority.”
This year’s marathon also marks the removal of Club DM, which will now occur during the fall semester as a standalone event. The marathon’s new format was one of many reasons to reschedule Club DM, and organizers hope this will raise awareness for the main spring weekend.
Without Club DM, organizers hope to motivate double-session dancers by having them view the new Children’s Gallery, which features a collection of photos from Embrace Kids patient families. The display includes "thank you" letters from patients, along with tributes to children who lost battles with cancer.
“It’s little reminders like that that keep your morale up,” said Rosario, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “For the dancers who decide to do both sessions … they love DM, and they know what they’re signing up for. They’re willing to keep that morale up from beginning to end.”
But RUDM’s greatest challenge with implementing the format change was “doing everything double,” Rosario said.
“You have to make sure that both sessions get the same experience, that everyone’s at the same level of excitement — that the opening of the first sessions is just as good as the opening in the second session,” she said.
This was also RUDM’s greatest challenge in regard to funding the marathon, as well as maximizing the final total to be donated to Embrace Kids, said Ankur Choksi, director of Finance for RUDM.
“We had to spend close to twice the amount we (spent) on DM last year,” the School of Engineering senior said. “The challenge is really working with every student and making sure that they raise their fundraising minimum because we want to maximize the number of people who participate.”
RUDM addressed this concern by helping the dancers reach their donation minimum of $350 per session, Choksi said. The number of dancers who raised the $350 jumped to 91 percent this year, reflecting an 11 percent increase.
RUDM also raised more than $125,000 of the total from “canning weekends,” where dancers would collect money — often raising the required $350 — at traffic intersections in locales New Brunswick, Edison and Princeton, Choksi said.
Dancer registration fees, Student Life, Rutgers University Student Assembly allocations and external corporate sponsors contribute to the final total, Choksi said.
“I’m really happy with the total,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s not (about) the total dollar amount. It’s about the experiences (and) the interactions that everyone has. That has value, and we can’t put that in dollars.”
This article is part of our 2016 Rutgers University Dance Marathon coverage. Click here for a full list of stories.
Dan Corey is a Rutgers Business School sophomore majoring in marketing and journalism and media studies. He is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Targum. You can follow him on Twitter @danielhcorey.