The University of Iowa

Being a Student Leader in Dance Marathon

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

My name is Anna Dodge and I am the current Executive Director for the University of Iowa Dance Marathon (UIDM). I am a senior studying Social Work here at the University of Iowa. The University of Iowa Dance Marathon (UIDM) is an organization that I knew very little about when I first registered as a dancer. I had the impression it was a group of people who raised money, danced around a lot, and were always in a good mood. Since the moment I signed up, I have learned and grown in ways I never thought possible because of our families and the mentors I have had along the way.

Dance Marathon is the largest student-led organization on campus and provides emotional and financial support to children and families affected by pediatric cancer. In the past 27 years, UIDM has raised $31,810,826.12 to directly support our families. This is a worthy mission and I wanted to join to work on an important cause while also forming meaningful connections in college. The thing about Dance Marathon is, the more you see of the organization, the more you want to be involved.

 All of the fundraising and work that you put in when you join UIDM culminates in the Big Event held in February, which is not just a 24-hour dance party. The Big Event brings together students to celebrate the children survivors, remember the children who have passed away, and support those currently battling pediatric cancer to find a cure. The Big Event connects dancers, leadership members, and most importantly, Dance Marathon families and allows everyone to hear family stories, remember kiddos dancing in our hearts, and commemorate the year’s efforts. After this event my first year, I knew I loved Dance Marathon and wanted to do whatever I could to support our families and Dance Marathon’s mission.

Our organization is led fully by passionate students. All leadership positions are picked through an application and interview process. To become a leadership member, all one has to do is have a willingness to learn and a passion for our mission. We have students who come straight from high school who apply, we have people who have been dancers for three years and in their last year decide to be on leadership and some leadership members who move into positions with more responsibility every year. It all depends on the person because of the unique routes in our organization. Those interested in the leadership team fill out an application explaining their passion for the organization, ideas they have for improvement, and their leadership experiences. They then are offered an interview to further explain why they would be the best fit for a particular position.

The hundreds of leadership positions in Dance Marathon allow a student to make a unique impact in this organization. Before I became the Executive Director, I served on our event committee putting on large-scale events that focused on recruitment and celebrating our dancers. I learned so much about time and stress management, I got to be creative, I had newfound independence, I made wonderful connections with friends, and I became incredibly passionate about advocating for families. The various levels of involvement within this organization allow everyone to make their DM experience their own. In a committee position, a person can explore their different interests and passions while working to create miracles in the lives of families affected by pediatric cancer. As a director, a person can foster growth in their committee and implement new ideas to make the organization better. Dancers have the opportunity to interact with families and fundraise within their group. I have seen so many students in UIDM unsure of their skills, but they decide that they care about the mission so much so that they step out of their comfort zone. That may be through planning a large-scale event, talking directly with community sponsors, or designing a logo that will be on hundreds of t-shirts. These students not only grow in skillset but in confidence. The students in UIDM take different paths in their leadership and we encourage our members to go for any leadership positions that excite them. Every person who is in Dance Marathon plays an integral role in our success and we need every single person to support and help fundraise for our families to achieve the degree that we do. The size of the Dance Marathon leadership team fluctuates from year to year, but typically it consists of around 300 members, which is needed to support the thousands of dancers we recruit each year. These members are divided between different cabinets and then divided further into one of 13 committees based on their interests, skills they possess, and their interviews. Our leadership team works year-round to execute our events and programs. Each committee has a different purpose and without each of them, we could not be successful as an organization. Dance Marathon is a student organization that not only gives important skills to its members but also changes your life immeasurably.

The skills received from Dance Marathon are different for everyone but vastly useful for future roles. Some baseline skills leadership members receive are learning how to fundraise, how to pitch the organization to potential donors, networking, following through on commitments, and how to be flexible when circumstances change. It is easy to imagine that things change quite often, so our dancers and leadership members learn to adapt and change. Last year our program was entirely virtual, causing everyone to figure out how to put on engaging events, how to form connections with each other and our families, and how to fundraise without face-to-face time. There were a lot of struggles to work through and much creative planning, but the students involved thrived and raised more than $1.4 million which was an incredible feat. The skills become more specific the more deeply involved you become in the leadership role. We have many different committees that all guide individuals to grow in specific ways. Our morale and lime captains learn to recruit and retain dancers. Our finance committee learns how to handle money, enter information into our database, and troubleshoot website problems. Our hospital committee interacts with children at Stead Family Children’s Hospital to provide fun crafts and quality connections. There are so many more committees as well. The size of our leadership team and the fact that we are entirely run by students allows students to explore passions and develop skills that lead to this organization's success.

In UIDM, there are several events throughout the year focused on the families we support, recruitment of dancers, dancer appreciation, and fundraising. Some of these events are Mini Dance Marathons in schools around Iowa, partnering with the Chicago Marathon to send runners, planning fun outings for our kids and families affected by pediatric cancer, holding Community Days with local businesses, and putting on our 24-Hour Big Event in February, to name just a few. These events all are put on for a different reason, but they all advance our mission of supporting the families we serve.

Dance Marathon has two UI advisors who help guide the executive council and strengthen leadership. The Dance Marathon leadership team rotates each year, so having advisors who have experience with the day-to-day operations of the organization is extremely helpful in transitioning new leadership and guiding decisions. Our advisors do a lot of work to make sure Dance Marathon can be successful, whether that is supporting the executive council, collaborating with the University, assisting with budget proposals, or various other tasks. The advisors work closely with the executive council to ensure growth each year in Dance Marathon.

A student who becomes involved in Dance Marathon is a student who works to support families impacted by pediatric cancer, a student who advocates for a cause greater than themselves, a student who can form lasting professional and personal relationships, and a student who is going to make an incredible impact. There is no opportunity like this one anywhere else on campus. I would encourage anyone I know to join this organization because you cannot understand it until you become a part of it. It will go on to change your life.

Are you interested in getting involved in Dance Marathon? Have a look at the registration options and sign up here