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Northwestern’s Dance Marathon goes virtual

The annual fundraiser, nearly half a century old, is being revamped due to COVID-19.

Northwestern University’s annual Dance Marathon, shown here in 2011, is typically an in-person, 30-hour event.
Northwestern University’s annual Dance Marathon, shown here in 2011, is typically an in-person, 30-hour event. But this year, it has shifted to a virtual format due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sun-Times file

For decades, Northwestern University students have held an annual dance marathon to raise money for charity.

But now that 30-hour event has become the latest group gathering forced to transition to a virtual format by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

With no time to adjust for COVID-19 last year, NU’s Dance Marathon was abruptly canceled.

This year, three days of virtual events will kick off March 3. They will include a trivia night, virtual yoga classes, guest speakers and a workshop from The Second City Training Center.

MCs will introduce speakers, dance and do donation challenges. According to Jillian Korey, marathon co-chair, the events will be a mixture of Zoom meetings, live streaming from a stage and other webinars.

Each year, a different charity is selected to benefit from the event. This year, it’s Chicago-based Compass to Care, which helps pay travel costs for families battling childhood cancer.

“We love the organization, they’ve been so great for us, and they’ve adapted so well to the virtual setting,” said Lindsey Lubowitz, marketing chair for the event. “First and foremost is giving them as much money and support as we possibly can.”

Also, students will be encouraged to do a 5K or 10K walk or run on their own.

Northwestern students Avy Faingezicht (left) and Erin Anderson at the 2013 Northwestern University Dance Marathon.
Northwestern students Avy Faingezicht (left) and Erin Anderson at the 2013 Northwestern University Dance Marathon.
Sun-Times file

One advantage to going virtual, Lubowitz said, is including students who may not otherwise have participated.

“I think in some ways we’ve gotten more people to register who hadn’t because they were too intimidated by the thought of dancing for 30 hours straight,” she said.

The dance marathon was started 47 years ago by Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and the Associated Student Government. Though the event takes place during Winter Quarter, the planning and fund-raising go on all year. School officials estimate close to 1,000 students participate each year.

Remote learning made it harder to recruit students this year.

“A lot of our registration typically happens in-person,” Lubowitz said. “This year, during our registration week, there were no freshmen or sophomores allowed on campus because campus housing was closed.”

Going virtual isn’t the only way the executive board adjusted to the pandemic. In the past, they’ve been criticized for requiring participants to raise at least $400. This year, students can set a goal that is manageable for them; the hope is that it makes the event more inclusive, encourages more people to participate — and raises more money.

The dance marathon is “so important for fostering tradition, and I’ve talked to so many alumni who feel the same,” Lubowitz said. “We are keeping this tradition alive despite the circumstances.”

1978 Northwestern University Dance Marathon, inside Norris University Center.
The Northwestern University Dance Marathon was being held inside Norris University Center when this photo was taken at the 1978 event. It later moved to a tent outside that facility.
Sun-Times file