I find it funny that my first post for this blog is titled “Human after all,” because that statement rings even truer after experiencing Dance Marathon 2008 — but in a different way than that initial post promoted. After 30 hours immersed in the world of DM, a little bit of my “DM can do no wrong” attitude has faded a bit, and the event looked to me a little more vulnerable, a little more human.
Remember Livestrong bracelets? For one dollar, anybody could buy a cheap yellow band they could fit around their arm, with the funds going to charity. Usually, donating money means giving without expecting anything in return. The Livestrong bracelet encouraged people to donate money to a good cause, but also receive something that both made them feel good and could show off to the world. Immense amounts of good were done, but the idea of charity seemed cheapened a little.
Dance Marathon the event is kind of like that, but more expensive and elaborate. Couples pay $800 towards a great cause to dance for 30 hours straight, all the while being immersed in loud music, giant TVs playing old music videos and constant reminders of what an amazing thing they are doing. DM staff members get the chance to also contribute, not just monetarily but also through setting up the stage or delivering food or keeping track of all the money, jobs all vital to the pageantry of DM. Being behind-the-scenes of Northwestern’s biggest student event is even more impressive than just being on the dance floor, as I was my freshman year. Taking part in Dance Marathon is a big deal: Numerous people I talked to during the event said it “is just something you have to do,” and even, “This is why I came to NU.”
Dance Marathon, unfortunately, wouldn’t exist without the incentives. What kind of college student has $400 extra to give to charity? And, more depressingly, what kind of college students would take the time to raise $400 for charity? Sadly, college students focus heavily on the “me.” DM needs to throw in incentives, so the selling point is the experience, the coming together of people, the accomplishment of dancing for 30 hours. The charity, the good deeds? That becomes the motivation for dancers not to give up on those 30 hours. When they start complaining about aching feet and drowsiness (things they were well aware of when they signed up for DM), the people behind the event remind them of what good souls they are, how if they keep going they can see how wonderful their accomplishment is. It is hard to knock DM for having to put so much time, energy and money into making the 30 hours a spectacle when it does so much good, but it is also sad to see they have to do that, that the only way to get people to help other blindly is to go all-out on crazy lights and t-shirts.
The final block of DM 2008 helped me come to this revelation. The two girls collapsing in the middle of the dance floor put the event into perspective, and made me see how DM Weekend can be taken a little too seriously. While watching everything unfold near Starbucks in Norris, it seemed that DM staff members were just as focused on what would happen with the final block as they were with the girls. Committee members were obviously worried with the well-being of the people, carting in water and bringing medical attention quickly to the tent, but to even think about the actual block during the incident was outrageous and slightly selfish. And throw in the fact that, as revealed by a DM press release today, the amount of money going to the two beneficiaries, Bear Necessities and the Evanston Community Foundation, isn’t $933,855 but $659,711. (Part of the fundraising total includes donations of food and other items that support the event.) That’s still a ton of money that will do much good, but DM’s decision to promote the overall number, instead of the amount actually donated to charity, shows how obsessed with image they are. Twenty-four hours later, it all still bugs me.
I love Dance Marathon. No event at Northwestern does more good than it does, and I’ve been championing it for two years now. I still believe in how great it is, how impactful it can be, how much joy it can spread. During DM 2008, there were times I still wished I was back out on the floor dancing. Part of me, though, is really sad I’ve realized it does have its chinks in the armor as well. If anything, I’m sadder for my generation, who can’t seem to do anything requiring sacrifice without the allure of copious amounts of food and the ability to be translated into a Facebook photo album. Call me naive, I guess I had more hope in people than that. I’m just sad I had to realize it at DM, and discover it too is fallible. I fell in love with Dance Marathon last year because of how unreal it seemed. This year’s DM was a lot like being eight and stumbling upon your dad’s dirty magazine stash. You still love the guy, but you don’t look at him quite the same anymore.
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