‘Fight for something worth fighting for.’ DanceBlue marathon raises over $1 million for pediatric cancer


Staff members reveal that a total of $1,430,497.39 was raised during the 24-hour DanceBlue marathon on Sunday, March 6, 2022, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

On Sunday, March 6, the 17th UK DanceBlue marathon came to an end. At the 24-hour, no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon, the organization raised $1,430,497.39 for the Golden Matrix Fund.

“It’s not about [the money], but it’s always nice to see a big number,” Bryce Dexter said, a senior on the DanceBlue corporate committee, before the marathon began. “Every dollar counts, every dollar is important. We could raise $1, and I’d be happy because it’s going to a good cause.”

This was the first in-person DanceBlue event since the pandemic began in 2020. This year, DanceBlue allowed limited spectators and 550 dancers. Each participant, including dancers, volunteers and committee members, was provided with a KN95 mask. Despite COVID-19, the organization has been working since last year’s virtual marathon to pull off an in-person event in 2022.

This year was a time of rebuilding the DanceBlue community after the restraints of the pandemic, according to senior Cliff York, who oversees the morale committee that leads dancers through the marathon.

Many high schools were interested in hosting mini marathon events but found it difficult. By offering interested schools ideas for virtual fundraisers and a chance to hold virtual events, the committee helped to rebuild the structure of mini marathons that had dissipated in recent years.

Another challenge was strengthening the bond between members of the morale committee after having gone without an in-person DanceBlue event since 2020.

“We always view this committee as a family, and last year, due to the virtual nature of our event, we had to rebuild some of the bonding elements that we have had in years past,” York said. “I think all in all, myself and my five coordinators surpassed any sort of expectations I had for them … it really did confirm to me that this was an amazing team that took the challenges thrown at them in stride and handled them with grace, joy and passion.”

The marathon began at 8 p.m. on Saturday with a call to the post and the morale committee rushing the front of the floor at Memorial Coliseum. The team then demonstrated the line dance that would be completed by all participants at the beginning of each hour. The dance included popular line dances and routines popularized by viral TikTok sounds.

There were games and activities every hour, including a “rave hour” at 5 a.m. complete with glow sticks and a D.J.

In the final hours of the marathon, dancers were squatting down, stretching their feet and pushing through “for the kids.”

“Being involved with DanceBlue was something that was really special to me,” sophomore Maddi Wilcox said. “I’m not going to say it was easy, but it was so worth it. Seeing the vibrant energy from the kids after everything they’ve gone through, or hearing stories from their families make you realize that standing and dancing for 24 hours is the least I can do.”

The morale committee and the dancers turned to face the crowd and complete the line dance one last time before the clock struck 8 p.m. As soon as the music ended, participants celebrated shortly before finally taking a seat.

Spectators and families were able to attend in the stands from 5-8 p.m. on Sunday. Students held signs cheering on their groups down below, and the audience delivered uproarious applause for the kids who performed in the talent show.

It was not just families and students among attendance in the stands. Some who had participated in DanceBlue before also decided to come back and cheer on the teams.

“I was a graduate in 2020, and I got to participate, and it was amazing just to me how many people come together for this cause, how much money they raise,” UK and DanceBlue alum Savannah Jones said. “Getting to see the kids come out and seeing the talent show just feels really powerful.”

The theme of the marathon this year was “Not all Superheroes Wear Capes.” The venue was decorated accordingly, including a room for patients and families of the UK DanceBlue Pediatric Hematology & Oncology Clinic. All of the money raised by DanceBlue is donated to the clinic. The final amount is divided evenly between patient/family care, clinic care and research.

“[DanceBlue] has solidified the fact that I want to be a pediatric oncology nurse, because I’ve seen firsthand what good we can do in the clinic, especially since we are able to have our clinic families and staff in-person again. It makes me so happy,” senior Meghan West said. “They’re the product of what we are doing right now.”

DanceBlue hasn’t just impacted the families of children for whom the money is raised. The students and volunteers who spend their time running DanceBlue have also felt the effects of their hard work and dedication.

For York, the DanceBlue community has given him a campus that feels like “home” for the past three years he has spent involved.

“DanceBlue is one of the largest factors of me deciding to stay in Kentucky, and I truly can’t imagine my college experience without an organization like this that has shown me how to love others well and fight for something worth fighting for,” York said.

Volunteers took four-and-a-half hour long shifts working bag checks and making sure the dancers stayed energized, hydrated and able to perform for the full 24 hours.

“The hardest part is standing for 15 hours. I took four shifts … and that’s the only hard part,” freshman volunteer Cassidy Selman said. “Everything else has been so rewarding. I’ve enjoyed myself so far. I was excited for the kids and to see them dancing. It definitely brings a smile to my face, I think it’s so awesome.”

As soon as the marathon ended at 8 p.m. on Sunday, applications went out for committee and chair positions for DanceBlue 2023.

“I don’t think that DanceBlue ever stops for us, because obviously cancer doesn’t stop for them,” Family Relations Chair Reagan Watkins said. “We keep going, we keep volunteering, we keep fundraising.”