At 4 p.m. on Friday, March 4, I checked into DM like any other dancer. I swiped my WildCARD, gathered my red wristband and my number and was escorted to my changing room, bracing myself for the 30 hours to come. I had not attended a single Food Committee meeting; I hadn’t even considered applying in the first place. And yet, at 7:30 a.m. I found myself digging through overflowing bins of trash with my bare hands, adorned in my official Food Committee t-shirt, bandana and neon pink wristband. By a strange, unexpected turn of events, I had become a last-minute addition to the team just minutes before the start of Block 1.
When I first registered for DM in the fall, I had signed up to co-lead a team with a friend. However, despite various recruiting tactics, we failed to gather other teammates. Instead, we decided to just dance together. I had an amazing time dancing last year as a freshman, and I was excited to experience it again with one of my friends, a senior who had never participated before. For months we prepared for the event – fundraising, planning costumes and buying copious amounts of snacks. We knew that it wouldn’t be easy, but we would get through it together.
After settling in our spot in McCormick Auditorium, we decided to go to the bathroom before eating dinner, escorted by a member of Dancer & Beneficiary Relations. Once we entered the room, lit with a fluorescent feel, the mood changed. My friend, who hadn’t been feeling well all week, was feeling lightheaded and sick. Within seconds, she was on the ground, her feet poking out from beneath the stall door.
My heart immediately started to race. Committee members in the bathroom helped my friend out of the stall once she regained consciousness and pressed wet paper towels to her forehead, which was now bleeding. I ask someone to call an ambulance, and paramedics arrived shortly after. I watched them through the front entrance of Norris as they lifted her into the ambulance, trapped on the other side of the glass. Within the span of 23 minutes, my small team had dwindled from two members to one.
Saying that I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. I had already been nervous enough to give up more than 30 hours of my life, time that I probably should have been spending working on final papers and studying for exams.
I remembered how physically and emotionally demanding the experience had been the year before. And now my partner, my source of friendship and support, was gone. I wanted to be with her at the hospital, to make sure she was ok. But I had committed to dancing, and I didn’t want to give up. So I took a deep breath, went back to my changing room and started getting ready.
Minutes later, I texted a friend with the news. When I told her I was still dancing, she asked if I wanted to join her on the Food Committee. Her supervisors had already given her permission and she had a shirt ready for me. Without even thinking, I said yes. That split-second response was the best decision that I could have possibly made.
I think I can confidently say that I thoroughly enjoyed all 30 hours (ok maybe like 29 hours and 44 minutes…I was a little delusional by the very end of Block 10). Though I loved my first DM, I definitely had low moments, points when all that I wanted to do was go home. This time around though, I felt so overcome with happiness the entire time. I can’t even properly describe it in words.
Though I had received no training in my committee responsibilities, I quickly caught on, carrying trays of food through the raucous, hungry crowd; hauling full bags of trash to the dumpster; clumsily wheeling carts through Norris; slapping slabs of ham onto hundreds of sandwiches at lunch time. Being on a committee completely changed my experience. I was free to go to the bathroom whenever I pleased – a major perk for someone with a bladder as small as mine. I was constantly busy with responsibilities, which made the 30 hours pass by quickly. I got to spend time with my friends on the committee, and I met so many other people who welcomed me into the group with open arms and full snack trays.
Though I was technically allowed to take breaks and rest, I opted to stay awake for the full 30 hours and tried to stay on my feet as much as possible. In certain ways, I felt like I was cheating, not having the full DM experience. My second Dance Marathon was definitely different than my first. But while I’m glad that I had an authentic first time around, spending my second stint in a committee was equally valuable and even more enjoyable.
My second DM got off to a rocky start. I was scared and stressed, completely unsure of what to expect. But I decided to push through and be a source of strength, for myself and others. I kept an eye out for all of my friends in the tent, especially those dancing for the first time. I tried to keep a smile on my face as I helped serve breakfast, congratulating dancers on making it through the night. I cheered with every ounce of energy that I could muster as participants ran, walked and trudged in and out of the tent during Block changes.
Dance Marathon is an all-consuming event. It is a test of physical endurance and emotional strength. It pushes you to your limits. It forces you to question your decisions. It strains friendships. It also strengthens them.
Some say that DM isn’t for everyone. But I would argue the opposite. It’s not easy for anyone, hermit or partygoer, calm or energetic. But with the right attitude, it’s 100 percent worth all of the pain, sweat and exhaustion. I know I’ll be back in the tent next year.