Behind the Scenes of Dance Marathon 25

While the polar vortex was blowing through campus on February 1 and 2, the IMU was heating up with excitement for the 25th Dance Marathon Big Event. Almost 3,000 students stood on their feet for 24 hours in support of pediatric oncology and bone marrow transplant patients and families at University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital. Additionally, there were about 1,000 family members present, along with countless volunteers and sponsors. Participants raised a total of $2,960,403.25 FTK (for the kids) after fundraising for the past year.

Planning happens year-round and doesn’t stop when the Big Event begins, according to DM 25 executive director Charlie Ellis. Charlie is a junior from Le Mars, Iowa, studying enterprise leadership and sociology. He says the executive council and dancers work the whole year to make sure the IMU is perfectly transformed into the “Disney experience” that it is. 

“For many directors, they have to keep it at the back or forefront of their minds for almost everything they do,” he says. “We were planning our maps and things over the summer, and figuring out exactly what the IMU is going to look like.”

Charlie Ellis DM25

Charlie Ellis, Executive Director of Dance Marathon 25

Charlie says the planning process involves a lot of problem-solving, whether it be about clogged toilets, the set up of the different rooms, or packages that didn’t arrive because of the extreme cold. The hard part about planning an event for thousands of people is that there are so many problems that can arise out of nowhere.

“It’s so important to be ready for anything, to really be on your feet, and to always stay positive in every single situation,” he says. “You have to realize that there are going to be problems, but it’s important to prepare yourself as best as you can.”

As executive director, one of Charlie’s goals was to implement an internal campaign throughout the year, with the purpose of motivating members and reminding them they are valued.

“This year’s campaign was ‘Shape your Impact,’ and the ultimate goal of that was the make sure that no matter who you are or how large or small the act, you will change lives in Dance Marathon 25,” he says. “It was a fun way for us to let people know that ‘you are at the big event, and you are so valued no matter what you did this year, we could not have done this without you.’”

This message was woven into this year’s DM marketing, as well as into events throughout the year. The campaign culminated at the Big Event in the Shape your Impact room, where participants wrote  about how they shaped their impact on the year.

When asked what his favorite part of the Big Event was, Charlie talked about how he enjoyed watching people understand what the organization is all about, and what their mission really is.

“On the flipside of that, it melts my heart every time a family comes up to me and says ‘thank you for everything you’ve done, this is so incredible,’” he says. “And to know that we have had an impact on families’ lives is irreplaceable and something that will stick with me forever.”

Preparing for the families that come is a whole other task on its own. Invitations are sent out, and families are asked if they’d be willing to be a speaker at the big event. Families that want to speak are made as comfortable as possible. They are given information about how long the speech will be, who they’ll be speaking to, and what to expect. At the event, kids and their families can hang out in the family room, which is filled with candy, games, bouncy houses, and more.

“One of the most special things is that all kids in that room feel very normal in the situation they’re in,” he says. “In a lot of their experiences in everyday life, they’re the only ones in that scene with cancer. But in the family room, every other kid is just like them. So they feel very comfortable and can be their true selves.”

Now that Dance Marathon 25 is over, the executive council is preparing to transition a new council for DM 26. Applications for director positions will go out, interviews will be held, and the old council will be in charge of showing the new council the ropes of the job.

“We’re making sure we are leaving a solid foundation that allows DM 26 to be as successful as possible,” he says. “We want to make sure we aren’t dumping everything on 14 new people, but that they feel prepared to take this on and to grow the organization to new heights.”