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UMN’s Dance Marathon raises funds and spirits for Gillette Children’s Hospital

Dance Marathon connects students with a purpose to benefit patients at Gillette.
Image by Grace Henrie
UMN students and Gillette patients play games and dance at Sotathon on April 1, 2023.

The University of Minnesota’s Dance Marathon is a misnomer, as it is not necessarily a “dance” or a “marathon.”

Students in Dance Marathon raise money throughout the year for Gillette Children’s Hospital in a variety of fundraisers, most importantly Sotathon, an eight-hour event in March with dancing, games and donations. The University’s Dance Marathon began raising money for Gillette in 2017.

Brenna McClarey, a fourth-year student and Dance Marathon co-president, said the name Dance Marathon can be “misleading.”

“We don’t really do that much dancing. We focus our efforts on raising awareness and money for the children and families at Gillette Children’s Specialty Health Care,” said McClarey.

Gillette, located in St. Paul, cares for children with “brain, bone, and movement conditions needing specialized expertise,” according to Gillette, as their mission is to ensure “children can thrive and live happy, healthy, productive lives.”

All of Dance Marathon’s fundraisers lead up to Sotathon, which takes place in March. During Sotathon, student groups perform, different restaurants cater food, participants play games and everyone learns a morale dance. The morale dance, a two-minute dance that everyone can do and that is taught throughout Sotathon, is the only “dance” part of Dance Marathon, according to McClarey.

McClarey said the money raised will go to several different things at Gillette, including new prosthetics, therapy animals, new equipment or other needs.

Each year, the University’s Dance Marathon introduces four or five families called “miracle families” that have kids who received treatment at Gillette, McClarey said. Throughout the year, Dance Marathon members bond with these families.

Kaci Vereecken, a third-year student and Dance Marathon’s co-president, said she loves getting to know the families and hearing their stories.

“I cry every single time I watch a miracle story,” Vereecken said. “They all kind of get to me. As soon as that video goes on, there are no dry eyes in the room.”

Taja Wright, a fourth-year student and director of fundraising, plans fundraisers throughout the year, such as bake sales, bingo nights, music events, restaurant fundraisers and Sotathon. She said getting to know the families at Gillette motivates her.

“It’s great that we can fundraise for specialty health care that’s doing life-changing work for different families,” Wright said. “Getting to be a part of something very powerful and impactful in such an easy, simple way.”

Wright said students should not be intimidated to come to Dance Marathon as the environment is welcoming and students do not have to commit to a lot.

“I think a lot of people may have this perception that it’s really difficult or you have to put in a lot to make a big difference,” Wright said. “You can’t take for granted the collective effort and doing your small part.”

During meetings, members go through updates, comment on each other’s progress, do bonding activities, go over upcoming events and brainstorm. The community atmosphere at Dance Marathon meetings is very collaborative.

“We all just love to have fun. We get down to business. We have a goal,” Vereecken said. “We’re all really supportive of each other, checking in all the time, we’re always willing to lend a hand and just make sure that everyone feels welcome and feels like they’re making an impact.”

For students looking to join Dance Marathon, they can attend leadership meetings which are open to everyone. McClarey said there is something for everyone in Dance Marathon.

Seven different teams serve different functions: event planning, recruitment, fundraising, family sponsorship, finance and public relations. If students cannot attend meetings, they can help table events or raise money on their own, McClarey said.

“Obviously, I would love to raise as much money as we can,” Vereecken said. “I think honestly just advocating for the kids and getting more people to know about the amazing work that Gillette does is kind of the biggest step in growing our group and making a bigger impact in the future.”

Dance Marathon is hosting a bingo night fundraiser on Dec. 7. Visit Dance Marathon’s social media @umn_dm for more information.

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