For The Kids, from the Commonwealth

Students at Apollo High School participate in a DanceBlue mini marathon on Jan. 27, 2018, in Owensboro, Kentucky. Apollo raised $68,324.87 for child cancer research. 

Bailey Vandiver

Communities across Kentucky come together for DanceBlue

Hundreds of UK students danced in unison to “Hollaback Girl,” one of the songs in the 2017 DanceBlue line dance.

Six weeks earlier and 178 miles away, high school students did the same Gwen Stefani-inspired dance at Apollo High School, where the members of the morale committee make their own line dance for Apollo’s DanceBlue mini marathon—the only high school to make its own rather than using UK’s from the previous year.

Because of this, UK DanceBlue committee members choose a portion of Apollo’s dance to use in its own 10-minute line dance, which is performed at the top of each of the 24 hours.

In 2017, “Hollaback Girl” was the portion incorporated from the line dance that Apollo senior Hattie Martin helped create.

“It was super cool to see it come to life and to see that it wasn’t just for our enjoyment but for all of Apollo, all of UK, and all for the kids,” she said. “So it was a surreal moment for me.”

Martin was at DanceBlue 2017 to see her dance become a piece of the experience. The connection then came full circle: In Apollo’s 2018 dance, Martin and the morale committee used pieces of UK’s 2017 dance, including the songs “Army” and “Ride the Train.”

Mini marathons in general— and the sharing of dances specifically— show that DanceBlue is not just a local Lexington event.

“I would definitely say mini marathons help us have more of a statewide impact,” said Jim Braden, DanceBlue mini marathons chair. “Even though DanceBlue takes place in the heart of Lexington, mini marathons have been a great tool to spread the word and message of DanceBlue across the state.”

Additionally, the clinic serves children from all over the state, not just from Lexington, Braden said.

SGA President Ben Childress, who is a member of the DanceBlue family relations committee, said mini marathons are a “huge” part of the organization.

“All the time, when you talk to people at DanceBlue, you hear, ‘DanceBlue is so much more than just a number that’s thrown up at the end,’ and the mini marathons that happen across the commonwealth of Kentucky are a big part of that,” he said. “It’s our reach to different communities.”

The number of people touched by DanceBlue has grown because of mini marathons, Childress said.

Apollo’s is one of more than 30 mini marathons in 2018, Braden said, and the number rises each year.

The first mini marathon was hosted by Lexington Catholic in 2008. In 2017, mini marathons raised about $200,000 of DanceBlue’s total $1.7 million.

“(Mini marathons) exemplify our mission, create genuine passion in the students that participate in mini marathons, and give them a platform to fight for the kids in the clinic,” Braden said.

Apollo’s mini marathon, which had 260 participants, lasted eight hours and included a decades hour, a rave hour and more. Apollo’s mini marathon pulls together the Owensboro community— fundraising chair Paige Ferguson said most of Apollo’s donations come from local businesses— and also brings members of the Owensboro community back home. Several UK DanceBlue committee members are Apollo alumni, including family relations committee member and SGA Vice President Elizabeth Foster, who was a high school senior when Apollo started participating in DanceBlue.

Foster said it is “incredible” to come back to Apollo and see how much DanceBlue has grown there. In its second, third and fourth years, the Apollo mini marathon doubled its fundraising from the year before. This year, Apollo raised $68,342.87.

“People are always like, ‘Oh, you helped start it,’ (but) I really didn’t do that much,” Foster said. “These kids do so much more than I ever did when I was a part of it.”

DanceBlue can also make students excited to come to UK, Foster said. In fact, Martin has not yet made her final college decision, but she said presenting Apollo’s check at UK’s DanceBlue may finalize her decision.

A week after Apollo’s— and a week closer to UK’s DanceBlue — Lexington Christian Academy hosted its mini marathon, which also lasted eight hours.

While being in Lexington puts LCA closer to UK, it also brings some challenges for DanceBlue, specifically when it comes to fundraising.

LCA registrar and DanceBlue sponsor Hannah Schweitzer said it is sometimes hard to fundraise because so many other schools in Lexington are also trying to fundraise. She said Raising Cane’s had been asked by about 14 different schools when LCA asked for donations.

LCA DanceBlue chairman Callie Pettigrew has been participating in DanceBlue for three years, but she said she did not feel as strong a connection to childhood cancer until she visited the old clinic a few years ago. Since then, DanceBlue funds helped open a new clinic for pediatric cancer.

“It’s really special to see that,” Pettigrew said. “This is what we’re working for— it’s FTK, for the kids.”

Like at UK’s DanceBlue, LCA invited special guests to its mini marathon. Cassie, a fifth grader at LCA’s Immanuel campus, came to speak to the dancers about her experience with leukemia. Cassie shared colorful bandaids with everyone because she said fun bandaids cheered her up during her treatment.

“I really love when Cassie gets to speak every year, and the students get to see just the impact they’re making, and getting to see someone who’s actually walked through the treatments and come out on the other side, and gets to be a spokesperson for UK and for DanceBlue,” Schweitzer said.

At the beginning of LCA’s mini marathon, UK DanceBlue committee members taught them about half of the 2017 line dance— including “Hollaback Girl” and “Army.” As the LCA dancers learned the moves, they were connected to Apollo, UK and everyone who dances for the kids.