Dance Marathon raises over $1.1 million, down from last year

The funds from the two-day event will go to UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital to support the children who are battling cancer.


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.

Kate Perez, News Editor

University of Iowa Dance Marathon raised over $1.1 million this weekend for the families and children at the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

The UI Dance Marathon 29 held its “Big Event” on Friday and Saturday at the Iowa Memorial Union, where UI students danced, celebrated, and stayed awake for 24 hours straight. The dancers tried to collect as much money as possible to support children with cancer and other conditions at the hospital. 

This year, Dance Marathon raised $1,174,008.29 for the kids — a number lower than last year’s total — the organization announced at the end of the “Big Event” on Saturday. Dance Marathon lowered the fundraising requirement for students to participate from $500 to $250 in an effort to increase accessibility.

Sarah Schminke, a UI student and fourth-year Dance Marathon dancer, said through tears that her favorite part of the “Big Event” was every part.

“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.” The organization raised $1.36 million last year while being mostly virtual.

The “Big Event” has been held mostly online for the past two years to mitigate COVID-19 exposures. Last year, some dancers and other Dance Marathon members  were allowed to be in the IMU for the “Big Event,” but attendees were still limited to keep people, especially immunocompromised families from the Stead Family Children’s Hospital,  safe. 

This is the first year that participants, from the dancers to the children from Stead Family Children’s Hospital, were able to dance at the IMU.

Kaylee Deisbeck, a UI Dance Marathon dance captain and member of the recruitment and retention team, said the final amount reflects all the hard work that the dancers, leaders, and executive members put in over the year and during the event.

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

Abby Thill, a UI Dance Marathon dance captain and member of the recruitment and retention team, said she was proud of all of her dancers, who raised over $6,000 in an hour on Saturday. 

Multiple family speakers who have been impacted by treatment at the Stead Family Children’s Hospital spoke at the event. 

One family speaker was Nikki Thulen, who served as the Dance Marathon’s Dancing in Our Hearts Family Speaker. The Dancing in our Hearts Family Speaker is someone who has “experienced the loss of their child,” according to Dance Marathon’s website.

Thulen was attending Dance Marathon for the fifth time to represent her daughter Libby, who died after having acute lymphoblastic leukemia. 

Libby was first diagnosed at age nine in May 2018. She received treatment at the Stead Family Children’s Hospital until July 2020, when she entered remission.  

Five months later, Libby relapsed and began treatment once more at Stead Family Children’s Hospital, where she remained until she died at age 12 in June 2021.

Thulen said she has continued to come and support the UI Dance Marathon because she knows how important it is to help both the children and parents in the hospital. 

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

Thulen also recognized the work dancers were putting in toward staying awake for 24 consecutive hours. The reason the dancers stay up for 24 hours, Thulen said, is to represent all the sleepless nights parents lose while in the hospital.

“That is why kids can’t wait,” Thulen said. “I want you to love like Libby.” 

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the article omitted the fact that Dance Marathon’s fundraising requirement was decreased from $500 to $250 in an effort to increase accessibility.

Grace Katzer, Archie Wagner, and Maddie Willis contributed to this report.