UNI to host first Dance Marathon

Dancing the night away is usually reserved for pure enjoyment. Your favorite song starts to play and minutes turn into hours as the crowd whirls around you. But what if in addition to using your dancing shoes to try out the latest moves, you dance for a cause? That's exactly what the University of Northern Iowa's first Dance Marathon plans to do.

UNI Dance Marathon
UNI Dance Marathon's executive team members.

Dance Marathons are nothing new; more than 150 universities around the country have hosted hours-long events to raise money and awareness for children facing life-threatening illnesses. UNI Dance Marathon is a student organization that is raising money for the University of Iowa Children's Hospital and the Children's Miracle Network. The actual Dance Marathon is scheduled from noon to midnight, Saturday, Feb. 25, at UNI's Maucker Union. It's an event the organization has been planning for more than a year.

"The planning process has been a long and busy one, but also extremely fun at the same time," said Tyler Adams, a junior majoring in leisure, youth and human services and one of the coordinators of the UNI Dance Marathon. "We have a highly committed and dedicated executive team that has been doing an excellent job at making this Dance Marathon a success! Seeing this organization grow from less than 10 committee members to around 85 members, 13 executives and more than 500 dancers for just our first year is absolutely incredible."

The goal for the first year is to raise $14,000, the equivalent of approximately $1 for every UNI student, and have 500 people involved with the event. The organization has already exceeded both goals. Emily Hanson, a senior majoring in leisure, youth and human services and UNI Dance Marathon co-executive director, said that close to 700 people have signed-up to participate on Feb. 25, and while she won't divulge the amount fundraised, she is "very impressed by the fundraising efforts of the dancers."

"I think we've all had different expectations for our first Dance Marathon at one point, but to be honest I threw out my expectations a long time ago because we've already surpassed all of the ones I had before," said Brenna Bush, UNI Dance Marathon co-executive director. "This organization is making a difference for our families and if we raise $1 or $50,000, I will be thrilled."

Money that's raised during the event will go towards research, education, equipment and enhancements for children facing life-threatening illnesses. One family that UNI Dance Marathon is helping is the Spencer family from Vinton, Iowa.

Four-year-old Olivia Spencer was born with a severe congenital heart defect. Before she was born, the entire left side of her heart didn't develop, leaving her with only "half-a-heart."

UNI Dance Marathon

UNI Dance Marathon held mini Dance 

Marathons before the big event scheduled for

Feb. 25.

"The chances were slim as we were given options for Olivia's future," said Kendra Spencer, Olivia's mother. "It was decided Olivia was a good candidate for open heart surgeries."

In April 2011, Olivia had her third open-heart surgery. It was during this hospital stay the Spencer family was given paperwork to become a UNI Dance Marathon family. "After all of our wonderful experiences throughout Olivia's hospital stays, we were excited to be a part of this," said Spencer.

"Parents thank us constantly and you can really tell how much they appreciate the support," said Hanson. "The kids don't have to say anything for us to feel like we're making a difference; when you see the smile on a kid's face, it really makes all the planning worth it. Knowing that you made a difference in the life of a child battling a life-threatening illness is priceless."

"Dance Marathon has

changed my life, and

I hope on February 25,

someone else can feel that

way too."

Saturday's event will be packed with dancing, games, compelling stories and the unveiling of UNI's new version of the Interlude Dance..."Panther Interlude." All proceeds from downloads of Panther Interlude will also go to the University of Iowa Children's Hospital.

"Dance Marathon has changed my life, and I hope on February 25, someone else can feel that way too," said Bush.

So many hours of planning have been put into this event and fundraising efforts have exceeded expectations, but UNI's first Dance Marathon isn't about the amount of money it raises, the number of dancers that attend or how long they can dance. It's about the wonderful families. And as the Dance Marathon motto goes…FTK: For the Kids!

For more information about UNI's Dance Marathon or to register to be a dancer, visit http://www.unidancemarathon.com/.

Check out the This Is UNI photo galleries for more photos of the UNI Dance Marathon.