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Dance fever

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Hour two, Katie Davis '05 and Julia, age 11. By Lee Pellegrini

Hour two, Katie Davis '05 and Julia, age 11. By Lee Pellegrini

Eighteen footloose hours

On two basketball courts in the Flynn Recreation Complex, students in uniform red tees are stretching. It's Friday evening, March 19, and "Miracles in Motion," Boston College's second annual Dance Marathon, a benefit for Children's Hospital Boston, is about to begin. The 277 students in red have each raised between $150 and $1,000 in pledges, and have committed to stay on their feet for 18 hours.

Two racquetball courts adjoining the gym are home base for the "moralers," another 170 students distinguishable by yellow shirts and the fact that they're permitted short breaks. They've been individually assigned to "morale" one or two dancers with snacks and surprise notes from loved ones. They're also divided into teams with names like "Couch Potatoes" and "Rewind to '89," each in charge of a theme hour. The pirate-inspired "Black Pearl" crew (who greet one another with growls of "Arrrr!") are mixing foil-wrapped candy into pots of sticky spaghetti. "Buried treasure," someone explains.

A few students look tired already. Team "Cowboy Up" co-captain Lauren Wojnar '07 says she spent the day "chasing down the UPS guy" to get the box of cowboy hats and bandannas now at her feet. And a dark-haired freshman in a jean skirt, Anna Rupani, is coming off a philosophy paper deadline and a computer crisis. "Basically I'm pulling two all-nighters," she says with a wan smile.

At 10 minutes to six, the moralers pour into the gym, clapping and whooping, circling the dancers-to-be who sit cross-legged on the floor. Special guests in white logo T-shirts—Children's Hospital patients and their families—begin a countdown from the stage. The children hoist fluorescent signs and the crowd chants with them: "3! 2! 1!"

There is a general scramble as the music blasts out and everyone gets to their feet. The dancing is tentative at first: There seems to be a prevailing marathon-not-a-sprint mentality. Within 15 minutes, however, a laid-back conga line snakes around the floor.

The room regroups to learn the Line Dance, to a medley of Nineties dance pop (C&C Music Factory's "Everybody Dance Now," House of Pain's "Jump Around")—a lot of shaking interspersed with classic moves from the Tootsie Roll and the Funky Chicken. Morale director Kara Robbins '04 sings alternate lyrics into the microphone: "Back again, year number two! Children's Hospital has joined our crew!" To the rear of the gym, the visiting kids bounce around inside an inflated red, blue, and yellow playscape, next to a crafts table and a plump leather couch that has been donated by a local furniture store.

The energy of the room skyrockets soon afterward when the wildly popular OutKast tune "Hey Ya!" rips from the speakers with its call to "sh-sh-sh-shake it like a Polaroid picture." A guy scoops his friend off her feet and swirls her around the floor. A dancer in a wheelchair throws her shoulders into the beat, as another young woman shimmies by with gauzy yellow-and-black-striped wings pinned to her back.

A ponytailed moraler in blue plaid flannel pants sneaks up on four dancers chatting on the sidelines. "Dance, dancers, dance!!" he exhorts, startling them into moving their feet.


THE EVENING is punctuated by entertainment provided by campus dance groups, cover bands, even a bagpiper. There's pizza, doughnuts, cookies, cake, bagels, protein bars, Skittles, gummy bears, Pop-Tarts, yogurt, salad, sports drinks, and water. Absent are caffeine and salty snacks. At a briefing a week earlier, participants were told there'd be an embargo on such dehydrating elements, as well as on timepieces. The Plex clocks were covered or removed, although, confides one dancer, "they forgot the one in the locker room." (Later, that too disappears.)

Eleven students in black polo shirts—the marathon's executive board—tend the machinery of this 18-hour party. They've been organizing since September. Still, glitches happen: Their walkie-talkies, for example, stopped working half an hour before kickoff.

Chief of staff Richard Boles '05 monitors the lobby, where marathoners are milling around a TV checking March Madness scores. Greeters take donations from the BC students, employees, and administrators who stop by to watch or dance for a while (more than 200 in all). Boles says everything is "larger scale" than the 2003 inaugural marathon, which lasted 12 hours, involved 165 dancers, and raised roughly $28,000 for the Boona-Baana Center for Children's Rights in Tanzania. This year, Dance Marathon became an officially recognized campus group, sponsored by the Office of Residential Life and by Campus Ministry.

Hour 17, as late morning sunlight streams in through a door at rear. By Lee Pellegrini

Hour 17, as late morning sunlight streams in through a door at rear. By Lee Pellegrini


THE OLDEST and youngest visitors have gone home and college kids have taken over the playscape. One dancer flops down to the floor at the end of a song, realizes his mistake, and scrambles back to his feet. Anna Rupani, she of the double-all-nighter, has kicked off her flip-flops and is flat on her back among jackets and bags in the moraler room. Four hours down, 14 to go.

Katelyn Reabe '07 has traded her red tee for a tank top and is at the craft table in the back of the gym, making paper heart necklaces with friends. Fellow freshman Kim Hirsch says she signed up on Student Activities Day—"and then they told me I had to dance for 18 hours." Did she reconsider? "Yeah," she quips, clipping a piece of yarn, "I'm reconsidering right now."

"I brought five changes of clothes, four pairs of socks, and three pairs of shoes," says Reabe. "I didn't know what I'd need."

Hirsch nods. "I brought two pairs of shoes, three bottoms, two tops, a toothbrush, facewash, and deodorant."


INSIDE THE windowless gym, there is no marking of the switch from Friday to Saturday, no acknowledgement of the halfway point at 2 A.M. A projection screen on the wall displays pictures from earlier in the night, but the passing of time is visible mostly in the proliferation of props and strange attire: glowsticks, beach balls, inflatable baseball bats, grass skirts and leis, coconut bras, straw hats, bunny ears. There's an infusion of superhero costumes (the theme of this year's Middlemarch Ball, also held tonight) as revelers swing by on their way home. Eventually those folks too call it a night. Outside the Plex, the campus sleeps.


FROM THE balcony overlooking the courts, DJ John Vautour '04 assesses the scene. The executive board has just taken pies in the face from dancers who raised more than $500, and there's whipped cream everywhere. Vautour volunteered to spin 18 hours of music with his business partner and girlfriend, Sara Burley. The key, he says, is to stick with popular requests guaranteed to get people moving and singing: Britney Spears, Madonna. An unlikely mix of Christmas tunes did the trick for a little while. He's holding back sure bets like "YMCA" and "Shout," but "it's frustrating because I want to get the crowd pumped up."

Down on the floor, two young women lean back to back, absorbing each other's weight. "Crouch, don't sit," warns the MC at one point. "I repeat: crouch, do not sit." The sofa at the back of the room has been blocked off with yellow "caution" tape.


JUST AFTER dawn, someone throws open the doors of the gym. It's a brilliantly sunny morning. At eight, families and friends start to arrive, looking showered, fresh, from a different world.

Earlier, Jennifer and Richard Cotell, both BC '86, had gotten up to express their thanks (daughter Jillian, age three-and-a-half, is a Children's Hospital patient). Now, Meg Kelly takes the stage with her daughter, tiny, curly-haired Isabel—an exuberant three-year-old who has already charmed several BC students. The hospital, Kelly says, saved Isabel's heart. "Someday she's going to dance all night like you guys."


THE HOME stretch is pure adrenaline. Few inhibitions remain—limbs flop, hands clap, knees jerk. Two girls get a uniformed security guard to groove to "Shake Your Tailfeather."

DJ John: "You guys tired yet?"

The crowd: "Nooooo!"

"How about another 18 hours?" he taunts.

Heads tilt up to the balcony, where a clock has just reappeared, its hands about to snap perfectly upright.

"3! 2! 1!"

Several immediately collapse; others hug, or raise their fists like they've just barreled through the ribbon at a finish line. Some dance for a minute more before sprawling against the floorboards. There's a litany of acknowledgements, and the organizers, led by Katie Davis '05, hold giant posterboard numerals aloft to announce the students' achievement: $62,441. Then it's over. Trudging into the sunlight, a guy cheerfully tells his friend, "I'm going to sleep for the rest of my life." But some have a different idea. On their way out, several of the Children's Hospital families bid goodbye to Davis and company, saying, "See you next year."

Nicole Estvanik

 

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