University of Iowa Dance Marathon’s “Big Event” will be virtual this February

The executive council of Dance Marathon has decided to hold their Big Event, a 24-hour dance party fundraiser, online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Katina Zentz

Participants dance during the Power Hour in UI Dance Marathon 26 at the Iowa Memorial Union on Saturday, February 8, 2020. Over 2,500 dancers partook in the event to help raise money for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital.

Clinton Garlock, News Reporter


Dance Marathon will be holding their “Big Event” virtually for the 2020-21 academic year because of the ongoing pandemic. The date of the fundraiser was also pushed from Feb. 5 to Feb. 26.

The University Iowa student organization raises funds for children treated at the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, and their 24-hour long dance party fundraiser has raised over 30 million dollars since the group’s formation in 1994.

Dance Marathon Executive Director Elizabeth Jackson said group leaders decided in the summer to move all their fall semester activities online. She said the choice was made after they realized they wouldn’t be able to adhere to UI COVID-19 guidelines, which restricts gatherings of more than 50 people.

“Our leadership team has over 300 members, so that number ‘50’ logistically just doesn’t work,” Jackson said. “We thought just for the health and safety of all students we should just go fully virtual… [for] our fall semester meetings, events, and programming.”

The UI decided on Aug. 27 to move all student organization events online, even if attendance was less than 50. When the number of Johnson County’s COVID-19 cases increased as classes began, Jackson said she realized the Big Event — which is held at the beginning of the spring semester — would also have to go online.

RELATED: As COVID-19 cases rise in Johnson County, students call for UI to move completely online with renewed urgency

“We just thought it would be the best decision for us, our families, and our community members,” Jackson said.

She maintained that Dance Marathon is still passionate about keeping people engaged with the virtual format and she added that the group is looking for ways to expand it to different platforms through live streaming. Dance Marathon still plans to give participants the 24-hour experience of the traditional Big Event, said Jackson.

“We’re trying our best to do what we typically do at a Big Event,” she said. “I don’t think we want to cut anything, we’re just reimagining how we can make it work for this year.”

While this year’s dancer registration numbers have been down, Jackson said, the online format has allowed for new outreach opportunities. The group is currently holding a shoe drive and they were able to partner with people outside of Iowa City.

“Typically, that would just be a local event, and now people in other parts of the state and country are able to participate,” she said.

Despite the changes brought on by the coronavirus, the director said she still thinks this year’s Dance Marathon will be a success.

“At the end of the day, making sure our families feel supported is our greatest measure of success,” Jackson said. “I think, no matter what, we’ll still be able to do that.”

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