All-night fight against cancer

24-hour dancing raises record funds

Savyon Duke’s feet barely touched the ground the entire 24 hours of DanceBlue.

If he wasn’t being carried around on the back of Alpha Phi Omega team members, he was busy running around Memorial Coliseum playing games and talking with the many people that were happy to see him there again for another year.

Looking at seven-year-old Savyon, it wasn’t easy to tell he was a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2003 but is currently in remission.

DanceBlue, the student-led fundraiser for the Pediatric Oncology Unit at UK Children’s Hospital, had its third-annual 24-hour dance marathon on Friday and Saturday in Memorial Coliseum. While supporting children like Savyon is at the root of DanceBlue, the event was aimed just as much at families.

Savyon’s parents, Doralice and Ricky Duke, and all four of their children have come to the event each year.

“We’ve been looking forward to this all year,” Doralice Duke said.

This year, DanceBlue raised $424,855, almost doubling the total from last year, and nearly 500 UK students danced for a solid 24 hours at the event. The money helps provide emotional support for families that have children with cancer, as well as help to fund cancer research, according to the DanceBlue Web site (

To help support the event, Gov. Steve Beshear declared Saturday to be DanceBlue Day, and men’s basketball coach Billy Gillispie came to Memorial Coliseum on Saturday evening and donated $10,000 toward the cause.

“I wish I had one tenth of the toughness that these young people and their parents have,” Gillispie said.

Student groups and organizations formed 75 different teams for this year’s event, said Megan Tolley, vice chair of DanceBlue and an integrated strategic communications and English senior.

Many of the teams adopted families with children diagnosed with cancer and sponsored them for the marathon. Also, families and the teams have activities, such as dinners and barbeques, together throughout the year, Tolley said.

Savyon’s adopted team, the co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, featured photos of him on the back of their DanceBlue shirts. Kari Zander, a member of APO and a chemistry sophomore, supported her team from the audience and said she thinks the event is a good opportunity not just for the families, but also for the dancers and everyone supporting them.

“It is great when a group of college students can come together and support a great cause like this,” Zander said.

Special events were held throughout the 24 hours of DanceBlue, including a pep rally featuring UK basketball players, cheerleaders, dancers and members of the band. Laptops were available for student use, along with ping pong tables, cornhole boards, craft stations and non-stop music throughout the night encouraging teams to keep dancing. Even as dancers grew tired on Saturday afternoon, the atmosphere remained upbeat.

Tolley said she believes the event was beneficial beyond raising money.

“Financially, the money goes toward the kids and helping to pay for things like medical bills,” Tolley said. “But the families that are here get to see how many kids come out that really care.”

Doug Cheek was at DanceBlue this year under different circumstances than when he went the first time. His daughter Tiffany attended the first DanceBlue in 2006 but died from leukemia later that year.

“I keep coming back to show support for this worthy cause,” said Cheek, who wore a hat adorned with buttons featuring pictures of his daughter.

“Tiffany would want me to be here. I know she’s here somewhere, I just haven’t found her yet.”