“But I feel better when I’m dancing, and we can do this together. I betcha feel better when you’re dancing…”

Meghan Trainor’s 2015 hit was the perfect song to set the mood for Vanderbilt University Dance Marathon (VUDM)’s 15th annual Big Event, supporting the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital, one of the 22 founding members of the nationwide Children’s Miracle Network. The event attracted over 400 attendees, including the 19 VUDM executive board members, 130 committee members, 806 dancers and the beloved Miracle Children and their families.

While The Big Event was originally scheduled for February 18th and is usually 13.1 hours long in the Student Life Center (SLC), due to the recent mumps outbreak on campus, the event had to be postponed and shortened to less than half its original duration. Ultimately, The Big Event 2.0 was held in the Vanderbilt Recreation & Wellness Center (VRWC) from 6:00 p.m. to midnight on Saturday, March 25.

VUDM set their fundraising goal at $267,000 this year, in honor of the 267 outpatient beds at Monroe Carell – a goal they surpassed by raising a grand total of $282,332.17 “For The Kids!”

“Revealing the total on Saturday night in front of our Miracle Families was so powerful, and I’m very proud that our organization can continue to support the patients and families at Monroe Carell,” VUDM President Ashley Detherage said. “I hope that in the future we can continue to break records and support with even more fundraising and involvement through the Nashville community.”

According to Detherage, Dance Marathon is a national movement on college campuses. Each program raises funds for their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.

“We fundraise all year long for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital – right down the street,” Detherage said. “We hope to spread awareness and raise money for our favorite place on campus!”

Detherage has been involved with Dance Marathon since her freshman year, stating that the whole concept of a campus of 18-22 year olds coming together for such a powerful cause has always been very inspiring to her, and she feels lucky to be able to touch the lives of people in her community and to create lasting relationships with the Miracle Families.

“Hearing our VUDM Miracle Kids’ stories and watching them grow up over the past four years has been an incredibly rewarding part of being part of this organization,” she said.

Sophomore Nick Fowler, who serves as the Director of Community Relations, said that the main mission is to be able to provide children with care regardless of their ability to pay.

“I know that for our goal in particular, we’re trying to raise money to both fund fellowships for pediatric oncologists – so basically child cancer doctors – for which training will cost about $45,000, and any money that we raise after that is going to a program called ‘Growing to New Heights’ which is about adding four new floors to the outpatient center of the Children’s Hospital, creating space for 267 new beds in the hospital,” Fowler said.

Anne Walker, senior and co-director of partnerships, said that VUDM’s largest sponsorship this year was the $10,000 they received from Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores. She headed the committee that wrote the application for this sponsorship, and the money aided with the planning and execution of the Big Event, allowing them to focus more on raising money for the hospital instead of worrying about expenses.

Co-director of partnerships, sophomore Morgan Hurst, attributed this year’s success to an increased level of inter-community and better communication among committee members.

“It’s just been the most rewarding experience. The exec committee is such a strong family, and it’s made me love Dance Marathon even more, besides my love for the kids and the hospital, it’s like loving the people that are in this organization,” she said.

Hurst played an important role in the facilitation of the Silent Auction, reaching out to local organizations and asking for either monetary or product donations. While the monetary donations are prioritized, the product donations are placed into groups toward the end of the year, and the rest of the budget is used to fill up the baskets and make them cohesive packages to be sold through the Silent Auction. The auction is then usually made live two weeks before the big event so that people have an opportunity to circulate the online link around to their parents and their friends from home, with the final few hours of the auction being at the actual event.

Apart from the Silent Auction, the other activities at the Big Event involved jewelry vendors, a handcuff fundraiser, a March Madness bracket, a bouncy house slide, balloon animals, a handprint banner and yoga.

At the beginning of each hour, the morale committee took the stage and performed a ten-minute choreographed routine to a mash-up of classic and contemporary pop songs. Freshman morale committee member Sophia DeMarchi spoke positively of her experience.

“Our job is to hype everyone up, get everyone very excited, and it’s been so great – not only dancing on the stage every hour – but interacting with the miracle families and just feeling like a kid again,” she said. :I’ve made a lot of new friends from this in different grades, different ages. We all didn’t know each other at the beginning, and now we’re so close and best friends.”

DeMarchi said the morale committee started learning the dance in December, meeting once a week for an hour. Everyone received 45-second pieces of the song to choreograph, shared their moves with the group, and the final routine consisted of all the individual parts strung together.

“My favorite part is definitely this big event,” DeMarchi said. “I was so bummed when it was postponed due to mumps, but it’s come back, and it’s better than I could have ever imagined, and I can’t wait for next year.”

Photos provided by VUDM PR/Tech and Emma Winburne

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