Your Impact

Moving to Raise Millions

For the second time in two straight springs, Dance Marathon student organizers were forced to rethink the annual 26.2-hour event. In 2020, the event was entirely virtual. This year, with sound safety protocols in place, participants shared the dance floor at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

Dance Marathon at UF raises $2.27 million to help the university care for sick children.

A twist, a shout. A mask, a Mac. Two million dollars collected.

Or, to be more exact, $2,270,311, plus change.

Ignore for a moment that 2021’s version of Dance Marathon at UF — the months-long series of events to raise money and awareness for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals — had a whole new pandemic-induced look. The Southeast’s best student-run philanthropic bash once again proved to be a star, ending with the same result as in the previous 26 years: a big dose of Gator generosity to help sick kids treated at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.

“This continuous support speaks to the everlasting community of individuals that we have gained over the past 27 years,” says senior marketing major Maddy Whalen, Dance Marathon at UF’s public relations overall director. “We would not be where we are today had it not been for the efforts of generations of Gators before us.”

That doesn’t mean Dance Marathon at UF’s main event April 10-11 didn’t clear an obstacle or two.

For the second time in two straight springs, student organizers were forced to rethink their annual capstone 26.2-hour sock hop. In 2020, the event was entirely virtual. This year, with sound safety protocols in place, participants shared the dance floor at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

If there were questions on how to stage a massive campus event during a pandemic, Gator students working with the UF Health Screen, Test & Protect team might have come up with a national model to keep partygoers safe, fed and entertained.

  • To make elbow room at the O’Connell Center, dancers were split into two 13.1-hour shifts: Orange (8 a.m.-9:06 p.m. on April 10) and Blue (6 a.m.-7:06 p.m. on April 11). Students and alumni who couldn’t be there took part via livestream in living rooms across the country.
  • Temperatures were taken, masks strapped on, and proof of being COVID-free checked for all in-person dancers and guests entering the gym. Participants had also been asked to avoid exposure for the two weeks prior to the main event.
  • “Miracle Families” — children cared for at UF along with their parents and siblings — had to have permission from doctors to attend.
  • This year’s moves also included disinfecting surfaces, using hand sanitizer and serving food outdoors.

“Seeing our movement continue to come together to make an impact ‘For The Kids’ at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital amidst a pandemic was extraordinary,” Whalen says. “It goes to show that despite circumstances our fight for the children is truly relentless. We could not be more proud of every member of our Dance Marathon family and community. We are incredibly thankful for the generosity and continuous support from all of our donors throughout the entire year.”

Impressive as Dance Marathon at UF was during the 2020 and 2021 pandemic, organizers hope next year sees a return to normal, with physical distancing restrictions going the way of the Mashed Potato, Macarena and other flash-in-the-pan dance crazes.

“The biggest win [this year] was having the opportunity to have an in-person event,” Whalen notes. “Being able to have modified versions of our favorite main event staples, such as our line dance, gong and ‘miracle stories’ made our event even more special.”

In its 27-year history, Dance Marathon at UF has raised almost $27 million for UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, which treats more than 8,500 pediatric cases each year. Dollars raised are used to purchase state-of-the-art medical equipment and support research, educational programs and enhancements that make a child’s time in the hospital less unpleasant.

In addition to the 26.2-hour main event, this year’s Dance Marathon at UF array of events stretched across seasons — from fall’s “Moralloween” trick-or-treat to winter’s “Miracles in Color 5K” to spring’s “Morale Madness” kickball tournament. Dance Marathon at the University of Florida is part of a national movement through Children’s Miracle Network hospitals.

“Every year, our goal remains the same: raise as many funds and increase awareness to help the patients and families we serve,” explains Lindsay Ritenbaugh (MED ’13), senior development associate for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals at UF Health. “The new overall team that will be selected shortly for Dance Marathon at UF 2022 looks forward to continuing to innovate and adapt to whatever is needed to creatively and safely defy the odds.”