Colored lights, pounding rhythms, cheering and lots and lots of bouncy dancing under a huge white tent set up next to the Northwestern University’s Norris Center – all signaled that the 2023 Northwestern University Dance Marathon was underway.

By the time it was over, the tired dancers had raised more than $400,000 for two local nonprofits.

Sadie Barlow, a student volunteer with the 2023 Dance Marathon, high-fives dancers as they head to the dance floor Friday night. Credit: Kathryn Routliffe

The 30-hour marathon, which started Friday, March 3, and ended at 1 a.m. Sunday morning March 5, is an annual fundraiser. This year’s event raised $434,455 for two beneficiaries, Little Heroes League and Evanston Community Foundation.

Students hit the dance floor with loads of energy Friday night, getting high fives from volunteers as they entered the tent.

By Saturday afternoon, after about 20 hours of hoofing it, activity on the floor was a little less exuberant and occasionally a bit halting.

And on Saturday night, as the event was 90 minutes from the marathon’s end, the nine-member team dancing to Van McCoy’s The Hustle on stage pushed through with determination, while those on the dance floor seemed pleased to just take the moment, watch and sway back and forth.

Still, throughout the marathon, a careful mix of music and choreographed terpsichorean enthusiasm on the part of the dance relations committee generally served to keep excitement up.

“The 30 hours is really more of a celebration,” said NU senior Charlotte Brightbill, a co-chair of the marathon’s dance relations committee. 

Members of the 2023 Northwestern University Dance Marathon’s dance relations committee show marathon participants in their 20th hour of activity just how to cut a rug Saturday night, with choreography and an explosion of confetti on the main stage.

Roughly 800 dancers started this effort long before the weekend event, busy raising money before the dancing started, said senior Chloe Lim, this year’s executive co-chair. Dozens of volunteers helped organize the 30-hour event – setting up games and events like ballroom dance and yoga classes to keep dancers rested, fed, and most of all, engaged.

The effort, now in its 49th year, is one of the largest independent student-run philanthropies in the U.S., according to Lim. Started in 1975, marathon dancers have helped raise more than $23 million for 38 charitable beneficiaries. 

Last year the marathon raised more than  more than $580,000 for its primary and secondary beneficiares, according to NUDM officials. This year’s co-beneficiary, the Chicago-based Little Heroes League assists children born with medical challenges as well as their families.

The league, which is affiliated with the Ann & Robert M. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, coordinates care for families and infants, acting as a point of contact between those families and medical and non-clinical hospital staff. Thanks to the Dance Marathon, the group will be able to add additional care coordinators and extended resources for more families, Lim said. 

For the 26th year, the marathon also benefited Evanston Community Foundation, which provides grants and endowment funds for individuals, families and groups, with the goal of helping the city thrive. Since 1997, the marathon has donated more than $1 million to the foundation, Lim said.

Senior Julia Mencher, the event marketing and media co-chair, said donations were still coming in as dancers pirouetted and clapped Saturday night, adding the final total would be announced around 12:30 a.m. Sunday. 

Kathy Routliffe

Kathryn J. Routliffe has been a reporter covering the Chicago area’s North Shore and Northwest suburban communities for almost 40 years.

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