Students dancethe night (and the day) away

by Stacy Shatto

Morning isn’t the usual time for college students to start dancing on the weekends.
But from 10 a.m. Saturday to 2 a.m. Sunday, more than 100 people participated in the first annual Dance Marathon at Coffman Union. The event, which included four bands, food, contests and awards, raised more than $1,000 for Gillette Children’s Specialty Health Care.
Claire Bednarski and Chris Wayne, both patients at Gillette, participated in the festivities and gave speeches throughout the event.
Bednarski, a 10-year-old who has endured more than 20 surgeries to treat Spina Bifida — a defect in the spinal cord that disrupts growth patterns — spoke to participants about her condition.
“I enjoyed being able to meet the patients first-hand,” said University student Ben Blair, a participant who danced for the entire 16-hour event. “It was great to see them smiling.”
Not everyone had the endurance of Blair. By 10:30 p.m., fewer than 30 people remained on the dance floor.
“Many people think Dance Marathon means just non-stop dancing, but really it’s a night full of fun for a good cause,” said Dance Marathon organizer Dave Fleischhacker.
Gillette Hospital, located in St. Paul, treats children who have handicaps or disabilities. It is the only health care facility in Minnesota with a brain injury program specifically for children and one of three with limb-lengthening equipment.
A patient’s ability to afford treatment is not a factor at Gillette. Officials said that’s why fund-raising events like Dance Marathon are important to their organization.
“No matter what, children in need are never turned away,” said Mike Murphy, developmental associate for the Children’s Miracle Network.
The money raised from the marathon will be used to help buy a new outreach van. Gillette has two vans that travel to various locations throughout Minnesota.
The vans, which are used to aid children who live far distances from St. Paul, also help cut down on the number of patients who must stay at the hospital.
Having patients present helped illustrate the cause organizers were trying to promote.
“This gave people a chance to see exactly who they were raising money for,” said Family Relations and Reception Chairwoman Cara Trudeau. “It really opened my eyes to their challenges.”
Although the goal of 500 dancers was not met, the Dance Marathon Committee was happy with the first-year turnout.
“Part of the reason for the low number of people was because the organization is so new,” said Fleischhacker. “It will definitely snowball.”
Committee members also said publicity, which consisted mostly of posted flyers, was not as effective as they had hoped.
“Many people didn’t know that they could still pay $10 at the door if they didn’t raise $45 in advance,” Fleischhacker said.
The idea of a dance marathon as a fund-raiser was started at Penn State University in 1974. Last year, that school raised more than $1 million for the Children’s Miracle Network, which spearheads fund-raising for Gillette as well.
Committee members eventually want to reach Penn State’s level of participation in the event. However, they were satisfied with the marathon’s debut.
“There was nothing negative about the marathon at all,” said Trudeau. “If anything, it just gets us ready for next year.”