Dance marathon. Picture the old photographs of couples desperate for money, barely able to stand on their feet, hoping that they can outlast other couples on the floor and take home a cash prize.
The UNC Dance Marathon? Not like that. Not like that at all.
Instead, strobe lights flashed in the dark gym at Fetzer Hall. The deejay turned up the bass so loud that it shook the room, and a thousand students jumped up and down pumping their fists.
It was Saturday afternoon, and they still had two and a half hours to go in the 24-hour event.
Not that the dancers didn’t get weary.
“It’s not easy,” said dancer Caitlin Lynden, a freshman at UNC, who was taking a break with her friends in the hallway outside the gym. “I knew that I was going to be tired, but I didn’t know my body would be so sore. My legs are really hurting.”
Lynden and the other dancers had been on their feet for 21 and a half hours.
“A couple of times I thought about sneaking out the side door and running away, but I had to stay true to my team,” Lynden said.
The reason Lynden and her friends stayed? The children a half-mile away at the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.
Scott Nelson, who also signed up to be a dancer, was tired, too. Each dancer was obligated to raise $150 for the cause and pledge to stay on their feet for 24 hours. There were games, food and drinks in the brightly lit gym across the hallway. Throughout the marathon, various groups performed or led the dancing, like the Bouncing Bulldogs and a Zumba instructor.
When UNC played Virginia in the Dean Dome down the hill, the game was shown on big screens. The dancing stopped and everyone watched, but they didn’t sit down.
“You push yourself to the limit and you realize how the kids have to push themselves to the limit every single day,” Nelson said.
Matthew and Tiana Ayotte can testify to that. Their daughter, Asheton Ayotte, now 11, was born 15 weeks premature. She weighed one pound, five ounces and was just 11 inches long. She was a patient at the children’s hospital for 107 days, sometimes barely clinging to life.
Asheton grew to be a healthy and strong girl and now serves as one of the kid co-captains for the marathon. She’s treated like royalty by the college girls on her team, and, in the past couple of years, she’s raised nearly $500 on her own, Matthew Ayotte said.
When the dance marathon started out in 1999, 75 dancers raised $40,000, and the money was used to help parents pay for parking, gas, and toiletries when they visited their children at the hospital, Ayotte said.
Over the years, the marathon has grown, and it has raised $3.3 million for the hospital and has paid for new programs, new equipment and enabled the hospital to hire a few extra people.
“It really is astounding,” Ayotte said. “It’s really such a remarkable effort.”
Katie Howard, a member of the Morale Committee, had 70 people on her team, and the kid co-captain on her team was a little girl named Josie.
Howard, who was dressed as Thor, has been involved with the marathon for four years.
“I love it,” she said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else at Carolina.”
As the day wore on and the clock moved slowly toward the 24-hour mark, everyone hoped that the marathon would reach its goal of raising $500,000 this year.
“I’m really hoping we’ve raised a half a million dollars," she said. “We came close in years past.”
They came close, but didn’t quite make it. The final total raised by 1,600 dancers: $430,181.68