‘Dancing in Our Hearts’ room remembers children who died from cancer at UIDM 26

The University of Iowa Dance Marathon 26 commemorated those who died to cancer in a room of remembrance called Dancing in Our Hearts.


Katie Goodale

Dancing in our hearts plays during Dance Marathon 26 in the IMU on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020.

Kinsey Phipps, News Reporter

While bright colors and party music celebrated survivors of cancer and those still fighting the illness in the Iowa Memorial Union Main Lounge downstairs, dim lights and calming tunes set a tone of remembrance on the third floor.

The “Dancing in Our Hearts” room was lined with photos and stories of UI Dance Marathon children who died from cancer. Families were invited by the organization to bring displays, remembering their little one that dances in the memories of those who love them. 

At the back of the Main Lounge, three quilts hung and were filled with the names of the 235 UI Dance Marathon children who lost their lives, with a candle lit above the lounge during all 24 hours of the event. 

“The UI Dance Marathon really emphasizes supporting children no matter what their journey is. Whether they’re in active treatment which we define as date of diagnosis up until five years cancer free, forever families which is after that five-year cancer-free mark, and then Dancing in Our Hearts families which are those who have lost their kids to cancer,” said Monica Myers, member of the UI Dance Marathon executive council, “making sure each of these families feels loved and appreciated is really important to us.”

In the “Dancing in Our Hearts” room, a purple board scattered with photos of a smiling little girl told the story of Jenna Lyn Leathers. 

“We lost our little angel on Aug. 23, 2000. We miss her every day. She could light up a room with her smile and charm. She was not yet four but was wise beyond her years and sweeter than you could imagine,” read Leathers’ board. “She taught our family so much how to love, laugh, and enjoy every day. Even though her life was brief, we were lucky to have her.”

As dancers, families, and spectators circled the room, photos of children looked back at them. Their stories were displayed in writing for all to see. 

Toward the exit, two final photos displayed the faces of UI students who lost their lives. UI Dance Marathon 26 decided to include them in the room of remembrance.

Mollie Tibbetts was a lifelong Hawkeye fan before attending the UI. She participated in the UI Dance Marathon her freshman year. Tibbetts was killed while on a run near her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa in July 2018 before the start of her sophomore year. Cristhian Bahena Rivera awaits trial for the alleged murder of Tibbetts.

A purple Dance Marathon shirt sat folded below a photo of McKenzie Gamble, who was in her final year at the UI when she died after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer in December 2019. Gamble was a member of the sponsorship committee for Dance Marathon 26. 

UI student Anna Moore wrote a letter about Gamble that sat below her photograph. 

“Kenzie was a dedicated student, whose dream was to become a physical therapist for pediatric cancer patients. She was genuinely one of the happiest, sassiest, most genuine human beings I have ever had the pleasure to meet,” Moore said. “We will miss her every day, but I will be forever thankful to have known Kenzie Gamble.” 

At the end of the event and before the big reveal of the total, a slideshow displayed the names and faces of all 235 UI Dance Marathon kids who lost their lives to cancer.

“While she was connected to these kiddos in the worst of ways, she loved that they felt comfortable around her because she knew what they were going through,” Moore said. “Through thick and thin, Kenzie always fought hard, and above all, was always FTK.”