20 years of Dance Marathon, 24 hours of non-stop dance
At a quarter past hour 4 of Dance Marathon (RUDM), the entire floor at the Rutgers Athletic Center rushes the stage to the sound of "Mr. Brightside" by The Killers.
While some would agree that The Killers is worthy of said rushing, its song had little to do with the wealth of student involvement that filled DM this year and every year before.
Since 1999, the fundraiser has raised more than $6.9 million for Embrace Kids Foundation for numerous families in the tri-state area struggling with the challenges of pediatric cancer. All of this money, including this year’s all-time high of $1,055,468.37, goes directly to Embrace Kids Foundation and helps support the non-medical needs of children with blood disorders and cancer, according to its site.
Part of the responsibility that goes into keeping the crowd fresh and energized throughout the wee hours of the night falls on the hosts and performers that take the stage. Members of the Dance Relations team deal with some of DM's most daunting task — including the line dance.
Christian Cendejas, a School of Engineering sophomore and a captain of DM said that the month’s of hard work he put into the event was worth it. He decided to become a captain after he enjoyed his time as a dancer last year.
“I just had such an incredible time being a dancer. You really get to see where all of your efforts and all of your money, you see where it all ends up. It’s just incredible. It’s literally all for the kids. Every single dollar, every dime, every cent. That drove me to get more involved in the program,” he said.
As a staffer of the event, he had more responsibilities than his role last year, which he said he was happy to take on.
These included raising $450, $100 more than a dancer’s minimal contribution requirement, and being at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) at 8:30 a.m. to set everything up.
As a captain, he only gets a 4-hour sleep shift throughout the event, from 1:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s totally worth it,” he said.
All the money raised at DM goes to the children’s non-medical needs, like a tutor or “to help them live somewhat of a normal life," Cendejas said.
Although a large portion of students attending the event were dancers, Cendejas is from the Department of Student Orientation and Family Programs and said that students from any organization are encouraged to participate.
Every year, students from fraternities, sororities, residence halls and different schools all contribute to DM, he said.
Hannah Rothstein, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and a Dance Relations Captain, works alongside a crew of directors and fellow dancers to recruit dancers throughout the year and prepare each year’s signature line dance.
In constructing each year’s dance, Rothstein said the assistant directors create the dance with help from a huge collaboration of dancers. They incorporate both new hits and old favorites from all genres into the mix. Once they boil it down to the best 10 songs or so, the music is condensed into a 5-6 minute dance, she said.
“At the marathon itself we teach the dance over and over again and we stay on our feet for more than 24 hours. We help all of the other teams with anything they need whether it’s setting things up or breaking things down, helping with food, we participate with family hour and interact with the kids. There is just not a moment when we are not doing anything,” she said.
Rothstein said dancers perform the line dance eight times, four of which are instructional, for each 12-hour shift. Bouncing off the positivity of her coworkers she said she is able to keep herself energized throughout the entire night.
“We have a really strong family foundation, like the Rutgers Dance Marathon family, and everyone is just so supportive and so positive so that energy itself sort of helps you keep your own energy up so much and logistically we all make lists of things we’re going to need, ways to stay comfortable, ways to stay hydrated, we’re all looking out for each other and it definitely helps to have everyone support you and lift you up and make sure you’re still on your feet,” she said.
Despite feeling performance anxiety, Rothstein said she finds solace in knowing that so long as the kids are enjoying themselves, and the dancers are too, all is well. While the group is accepting of all dancers willing to participate, she finds that people often do not realize their passion until they are at the marathon and meet the kids for themselves.
“I think it’s like contagious, once you start and someone else gets inspired and they want to do it and it just makes you want to keep going and keep seeing how much more you can make an impact and how much more you can get involved,” she said.