[VIDEO & SLIDESHOW] Dancing with the stars: DanceBlue raises $636,638.58



By Brandon Goodwin

There’s only one place where more than 600 students, UK head coach John Calipari, cancer survivors and more come together to do the most famous dance in the Commonwealth.

Hint: It’s not Rupp Arena.

For 24 hours, all of the above tried their hands at line dancing, among other styles, but the John Wall dance was the most popular at Memorial Coliseum for DanceBlue.

DanceBlue, a 24-hour dance marathon, set a new record Saturday by raising $636,638.58, a $35,000 increase over last year’s total.

The money supports the UK Children’s Hospital Pediatric Oncology Clinic and the families whose children have been affected by cancer. Since its creation in 2006, DanceBlue has raised more than $2 million for the Golden Matrix fund.

The clinic helps children like 7-year-old Jillian Smalley. In August of last year, Jillian was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Jillian’s struggle is tough, but on Saturday, she stood on stage in front of more than 600 college students with a smile on her face, dancing and spinning.

Jillian’s father, Jerry, said he watched how this event offered support and encouragement, but the effects are felt year round.

“It’s refreshing to know there is someone out there who really cares,” Jerry said. “And this money is helping hire new staff and support research, so it’s just great.”

With appearances from UK head coaches and many athletes, as well as faculty, staff and administration, DanceBlue wasn’t short on star power — especially when it came to the small survivors who where there to dance.

Just as it is crucial to prevent and to kill existing cancer cells, it’s important that children be served with long-term treatment, said Robert Carr. His son, Gavin, was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia.

Carr listed staggering numbers of long-term problems associated with treating cancer, including heart disease, stroke and even new cancers.

The problems arise when cancer patients are too old to be served by pediatric clinics and they are turned over to family physicians who aren’t trained to recognize those problems, Carr said.

That’s not the case at UK.

“(UK) offers follow-up clinics to all of their pediatric cancer patients,” Carr said. “So these kids can have support for the rest of their lives.

“DanceBlue offers a lot of funding for that to happen,” Carr said.

Kathy Bennett and her husband have been attending DanceBlue since the beginning. Their daughter, Katy, was one of the original dancers back in 2006.

Bennett said DanceBlue is special because so many people are touched by cancer, including her.

Bennett’s mother had three different types of cancer in her lifetime: ovarian, stomach and colon cancer.

With so many connections to the organization, Bennett volunteers her time and money to make sure the dancers are well fed during the marathon.

“I stay until about eight,” Bennett said. “Then, I come back around one or two with treats for the dancers. What they are doing is just amazing.”

Jimmy Gilles came all the way from Owensboro, Ky., to support his sons Jim and Brandon.

“I just hope they see the importance of this and they try to get others involved,” Gilles said. “I’m proud that they are good community leaders.”

Nursing sophomore Madeline Neel volunteered to work because of her future career goals.

“Since I’m going into nursing, I’m interested in helping kids,” Neel said. “I feel like I’m doing something for them already.”

No matter how many times parents, spectators, families and speakers praise the students for dancing, in the end, the students always look toward the kids and chant, “We dance for YOU, we dance for YOU, we dance for YOU, all night long!”