UI Dance Marathon kicks off "Big Event" of 24 hours of dancing - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

UI Dance Marathon kicks off "Big Event" of 24 hours of dancing

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One of the biggest events of the year on the University of Iowa campus is in full swing.

UI Dance Marathon's "Big Event" started Friday night at 7 p.m.  Students stay up for 24 hours without ever sitting down or having help from caffeine.  It's all for an incredible cause.

Dance Marathon at Iowa, now in its 24th year, works 365 days a year to raise money for, and awareness of, pediatric cancer.  The money directly helps the children and their families at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital. 

For the students it might be an exhausting 24 hours, but they say it's nothing compared to the battle pediatric cancer patients face.

"It's really a difficult experience and the children don't get to choose to experience it, but they have to in order to live.  In order to fight the disease they have to go through so much. So I think all of us healthy students, I think we can make a little bit of a sacrifice. Be a little bit uncomfortable just to show that we're here fighting with ya," Alex Linden, UI Dance Marathon Executive Director, said.

While the event raises awareness, the night is also for remembering the young lives taken by cancer and to celebrate the survivors. The event kicks off by bringing each of the families they help through the crowd, and recognizing them individually on stage.

"This year, we unfortunately exceeded 900 families, and I say 'unfortunately' because no child should ever have a diagnosis of cancer," Linden said.

Prior to acknowledging the families, UI Dance Marathon announced that, in just two days, through a radio-thon, it raised an additional $80,000 for pediatric cancer. 

In order to be a part of the Big Event, each student has to raise at least $500.  But many of them don't stop when they reach that goal.

"We've gone around neighborhoods canning, where you take a can and go door-to-door and ask people for donations. Once it gets close to the Big Event, we're doing that constantly," UI student, Danny Whiskeyman, said.

Outside of the event and raising money, the students are also a source of support for the families. That includes emotionally and financially. 

"They volunteer with the children at the hospital at least three hours a day, each individual on the team, and just play and interact with the families.  And that's almost every single day.  Every week throughout the entire year, we have a presence on the 11th floor of the Stead Family Children's Hospital," Linden said.

Kari Smith and her family first got introduced to Dance Marathon 12 and a half years ago, after her son was diagnosed with a form of leukemia.

"Our very first dance marathon was a Christmas party and that was the first time that we saw other bald kids.  So we got to see other kids that were like our son and that made us realize that we weren't alone," Smith said.

Each year they come to the Big Event to celebrate her son's health and the efforts of Dance Marathon.

"It's important because this is our family.  To us, Dance Marathon is love," she said.

At the end of the event, on Saturday night, Dance Marathon will announce the total amount of money it has raised over the past year. Last year, the group raised over $2.5 million. 

Until then, donations can be given here.

A live stream of the event can be watched here.

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