Dance Marathon molds future philanthropists

a child walks through a line of people at Dance Marathon, slapping hands as he goes down the line

Dance Marathon kicks off this Friday. Photo by Tim Schoon.

They’re quite inspiring, the students who join University of Iowa Dance Marathon.

They deliver one-on-one attention and fun activities every week to oncology patients at UI Children’s Hospital (allowing the kids’ families a much-needed break). They organize group excursions to amusement parks and museums to help divert focus from the momentous challenges the children are facing. They immerse themselves in ongoing fundraising and awareness building.

And each winter their efforts culminate in “the Big Event,” a 24-hour dance marathon in the Iowa Memorial Union, where they celebrate young cancer survivors as well as patients fighting for their lives, remember those who have passed, and find out how much money was raised in the previous year (a total that has topped $1 million in each of the past four years). In 2010, the student-run organization gave $1 million to the Children’s Hospital to support research into pediatric cancer and blood disorders, and in 2011 it pledged $5 million over the next 10 years toward a new Children’s Hospital building.

UI Dance Marathon’s Big Event this year will be held Feb. 3-4; for more details (including a live feed), see Also, find information about the UI Dance Marathon Alumni Group at

Check fyi on Friday, Feb. 3, for the latest installment of the “My favorite photo” series, which will deal with an image from a Dance Marathon Big Event.

Read more about how Dance Marathon started, how it works, and how it’s paying off in January’s Spectator:

There is a lot of giving on the part of the 2,000-plus student participants, including time, money, and effort, but there also is plenty of “getting,” the students insist.

For Elyse Meardon (B.S. ’09), executive director of the 2012 Dance Marathon, the experience has instilled the confidence she needed to pursue a medical degree. She currently is taking graduate-level courses at Iowa and plans to take the Medical College Admission Test in the spring.

“Dance Marathon helps students develop a professional skill set—and that’s something you don’t necessarily get in the classroom. I now have experience in interviewing, development and fundraising, and peer management,” says Meardon, who majored in radiation sciences. “It’s forced me to push the limits of what I think I can do, and has given me confidence and humility.”

Michael Kinney, a senior majoring in marketing and management who plans to work in public relations, says he has gained invaluable field experience as Dance Marathon’s 2012 marketing director. And while the position has improved his time management and communication skills, he says it also has imparted important life lessons.

“As college students we get so caught up over a grade or socializing with friends, and while those things are important, Dance Marathon has taught me to step back, relax, and realize that I’m living ‘the good life,’” he says. “There’s always going to be something to work on or something that needs to be done. Every once in a while you have to put those things on hold and spend some time goofing around with your friends and family. If you don’t take moments for yourself, you’re going to burn out and start dreading what you once loved.”

So profound was the experience of participating in Dance Marathon and volunteering at UI Children’s Hospital that Brian Martin (B.S.N. ’09) switched his major to nursing and now is a hematology/oncology nurse at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. He also is involved in the Chicago Dance Marathon.

“Dance Marathon taught me the importance of putting others before yourself,” says Martin, who returns to the UI campus each winter to be a part of the Big Event. “I learned about stewardship and how helping others can be very self fulfilling. It also defined who I am as a leader.”