Friday night, hundreds of sweaty Northwestern students will gyrate in and around Norris to raise money for kids with pediatric cancers. Unlike them, I’ll try to stay away.
There’s something about Dance Marathon I find strange and monolithic. One of Northwestern’s most unifying traditions, DM has been a presence on campus for 33 years. Founded by the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and ASG, it has since grown insanely in scope and size. The first DM raised $9,100, and this year’s incarnation is expected to generate over $700,000. Supporting charities is always a worthwhile endeavor, but it is curious that DM is the most popular and prominent student group on campus.
Considering our campus is notoriously devoid of serious social and political activism, it follows that the most popular group is also the most morally unambiguous. Who doesn’t support helping kids with cancer? DM is a great reputation booster for frats, sororities, residential colleges and religious groups. I lived in Willard last year, and there wasn’t one day between October and March that I wasn’t bombarded by e-mails, fliers or dance marathon maniacs entering my room unannounced to convert me to their benevolent cause.
DM dancers face no real downside for their participation, besides potential exhaustion or traumatizing their peers with garish dance moves. If I were protesting against the Iraq War or supporting Jena 6 on this campus, I would generate some stares and ridicule from other students. Activism is the exception, not the norm. I remember an anecdote from The Daily Northwestern last fall about a group of black students, protesting the violent rape of a black woman in West Virginia, who were miffed by sororities handing out candygrams and blasting rap music at the Rock during their protest.
In a way, DM is a way of assuaging our collective guilt for being so distant from pressing social and political issues. We may not give a shit about racial dilemmas on our predominately white campus, or feel troubled by our endemic political apathy come election time, but it’s all good in the end because we help out some dying children along the way. DM is the perfect philanthropic outlet for our community because it is easy to get involved with and even easier to participate. But even better, it offends no one in our basically conservative community. Dancers keep on dancing, but their moves aren’t exactly bold.