Live updates: University of Iowa Dance Marathon raises $1.17 million

Our team of reporters is covering the 24-hour event from inside the Iowa Memorial Union and will provide updates throughout.


Jerod Ringwald

Students hold up a final amount raised during the University of Iowa’s 29th Dance Marathon at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. The event raised about $1.17 million in 24 hours.

Read our Q&A with Dance Marathon Executive Director Raginya Handoo ahead of the beginning of the “Big Event.”

The Daily Iowan: How do you feel going into this year with Dance Marathon, as it’s the first year back to a pre-pandemic setting?

Handoo: Yes, the last time we had an in-person Dance Marathon “Big Event” would have been my freshman year, so Dance Marathon 26. It was 2020, and it was in February right before the pandemic hit. Ever since then, we’ve had two virtual events … It’s been challenging, navigating this new area, because we’re basing everything on whatever we remember that happened our freshman year.

Many of us who are not only executives, but even our entire leadership team have never really experienced a “Big Event” in person, except for when we were freshmen. They were dancers and as dancers, you only know a little of what’s going on behind the scenes or the planning. We’re doing our best, relying a lot on our advisors and alumni, and just a lot of the groups we work with … we’ve been well supported, which is always positive and always great to have, but it’s exciting.

I can tell a lot of the anticipation is building with not only our leadership team, but dancers because you see all these crazy, incredible pictures and videos, but no one’s experienced that in a while. So, there is a high expectation, but I think we can reach it.

DI: What’s going to be different at Dance Marathon 29?

Handoo: We’re bringing back many of our traditions that we’ve lost throughout the years. Lots of things we couldn’t replicate or mimic during a virtual year. We’re trying to turn back to the in-person stuff. During the COVID virtual years, it was nice because we got a bit of a reset. We got to talk more closely with our leadership members and dancers to survey them and really understand what they want out of Dance Marathon, what’s not needed, or where there is a need that we can fill.

We want to make sure that there’s accommodations, if necessary, for everybody to enjoy Dance Marathon. One of the things we’re doing this year is we have a morale dance we show every year, and our captains go up and perform it every hour. This year, we are also making a video that is an accommodated version of this morale dance because it’s something that people typically want to learn at the big event, and we have the opportunity for everyone to learn it….We’re also trying to pull in more student organization involvement this year to foster that partnership, so other student organizations will be performing at our big event, a lot of the performative ones, like dance groups and singing groups.

Additionally, the classic “Kiddo Graduation” or “Halfway There” they’ve always been a tradition. We’re making little tweaks based on what we have heard and the feedback we’ve received, while still staying true to Dance Marathon and keeping those traditions that everybody knows and loves.

  – Transcription by Natalie Miller

Read the entire Q&A here and check back for updates throughout the event.

Live Updates

7:15 p.m. — After hours of fundraising, UI Dance Marathon 29 raised $1,174,008.29. The organization raised $1.36 million last year.

Through tears, Sarah Schminke, a fourth-year dancer, said that her favorite part about the “Big Event” was everything.

“It was so nice to be back in person,” she said, “My last in-person ‘Big Event’ was freshman year, so it’s like a full circle moment coming back to it being senior year.

Abby Thill and Kaylee Deisbeck are dance captains and members of the recruitment and retention team.

“It was a great success. Coming back from a COVID year and raising the amount that we did, it’s mind-blowing,” Deisbeck said.

It shows the hard work that the dancers, leaders, and executive members put in, Deisbeck said.

Thill said she is very proud of her dancers, who raised over $6,000 thousand in an hour on Saturday.

7:02 p.m. — Event video recap was played.

6:40 p.m. — A slideshow was presented to remember those who lost their battles and were unable to be here today.

– Maddie Willis

6:25 p.m. — Libby Thulen’s family was the last speaker of the night. It was Nikki Thulen’s fifth “Big Event,” but they were missing the most important person — their daughter.

Nikki Thulen’s daughter Libby was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 9. Her treatment ended in June 2020 after 2.5 years of treatment.  Five months later, Libby relapsed.

“Every single person in dance marathon becomes your family. The impact you make, even on us parents you can’t explain it,” Nikki Thulen said.

Nikki Thulen explained the reason the dancers stay up for 24 hours is for all the sleepless nights parents lose while in the hospital.

At 12 years old, Libby made the decision to shut her machine off. “That is why kids can’t wait,” Nikki Thulen said.

Last January, Nikki Thulen was funded for research.

“I want you to love like Libby,” she said.

6:15 p.m. — The last song of the night was played. Dancer, Regan Trexel, said the power hour was fun. “It’s been rewarding getting to see all of the families,” she said.

5:50 p.m. — Halfway through power hour, a cheer led by DJ Inzane broke out “kids can’t wait.” Following the chant halfway through power hour was celebrated with “Livin’ on a prayer’” by Bon Jovi.

5:40 p.m. — With under an hour and a half until the big reveal, the power hour begins. 

5:30 p.m. — The Morale Captains joined Inzane on stage to dance it out before the excitement of Power Hour starts.

5:15 p.m. — A special thank you to the leadership and executive council. Maddy Wilson and Jessie Cunningham are in their first year as UI Dance Marathon advisors. DJ Inzane was also recognized for being the DJ at the “Big Event” for the last 25 years. 

In his time, DJ Inzane helped the efforts of raising over $30 million. 

“Dance Marathon is what love looks like. I will say it again because that is how much it means to me. Dance Marathon is what love looks like. It is unselfish, it is sacrificed, and it is over a long period of time,” DJ Inzane said.


4:20 p.m. — Cat Miles, the UI Dance Marathon family liaison, raised over $10,000 for the organization by herself, resulting in her winning the UI Center for Advancement Young Philanthropist Award.

Dance Marathon was also just given a check by the Dance Marathon Alumni Group for $155,000.

3:15 p.m. — UI Dance Marathon Dancer Emily Jansen said while she was initially nervous about coming to the event, she feels great. 

“I feel fantastic, I was a little worried coming in, because you know it’s hard to like stay up 24 hours. I honestly feel great, but the energy is high, trying to keep up the energy and make sure everyone’s on the same page,” she said. 

The Fundraising Power Hour has just started, in which the Dance Marathon tries to raise as much money as possible in an hour through last-minute donations. The organization’s goal for this hour is $40,000, which is the average cost for a hospital stay for a cancer patient.

– Archie Wagner

10:00 a.m. — Aaron Horn, president and co-founder of Beat Cancer Today, just presented $15,000 to Dance Marathon. 

Additionally, UIHC Nurse Practitioner Mary Schlapkohl has won the Dance Marathon’s Hospital Award, recognizing an outstanding staff member who shares the Dance Marathon values. 

9:30 a.m. — Health care workers from the UIHC Stead Family Children’s Hospital are performing a skit for the audience. 

8:00 a.m. — UI Fraternity and Sorority Life Chair Katie Carr and Campus Relations Director Mercedes Juelfs announced UI fraternities and sororities raised $89,409.20 for Dance Marathon. 

“Thank you to everyone who dedicated so much of their time to your chapter and to Dance Marathon, we appreciate all of your hard work,” Juelfs said.

7:00 a.m. — We are officially halfway through the UI Dance Marathon 29 Big Event, with only 12 hours left until the reveal of how much money has been raised. 

– Grace Katzer


8:20 p.m. — A family liaison for Dance Marathon Kat Miles just announced that 66 families have been added to the organization so far in 2023. 

8:10 p.m. — Dance Marathon just 29 premiered its Captain Morale dance.

7:55 p.m. — A representative from the University of Iowa Center for Advancement announced Dance Marathon’s Radiothon raised $162,853. UI President Barbara Wilson has also joined the event via Zoom.

7:36 p.m. — Amber Lindsey, UI Dance Marathon’s Children Miracle Network partnership manager and representative, just spoke about the important mission behind Dance Marathon.

“So I want you to take a moment to think about what or maybe even who brought you to this room today,” Lindsey said. “Keep them in mind as you’re here dancing for the next 24 hours because every 60 seconds, 62 kids will enter a CMN [Children’s Miracle Network] Hospital needing treatment.”

7 p.m. Dance Marathon 29 officially kicked off with a performance from the University of Iowa Sparkles and Spirit Squad. Twenty-four hours of dancing and fundraising are now underway, fully in-person, for the first time in three years.

– Archie Wagner

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