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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

As the opening lines of Reel 2 Real’s “I Like  to Move It” echoed through the O’Connell Center on Saturday, a mob of about 800 students rushed to the center of the floor.

Then, they danced.

This is Dance Marathon, a tradition that celebrated its 17th year at UF last weekend.

Students started standing at 11:48 a.m. Saturday and didn’t sit down again until about 2 p.m. Sunday.

Students stood for 26.2 hours to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network at Shands Children’s Hospital at UF, said Kenny Brighton, a graduate student who served as the overall director for DM.

Last year, the dancers broke their record by raising more than $500,000. This year, DM raised $713,053.68.

Students raised money throughout the year for the organization, which culminated in the all-night dance-a-thon.

Matt Michel, a UF law student who has been a DM dancer since he was a freshman in 2004, received a commemorative shirt on stage Saturday to celebrate the grand total of 232.8 hours he spent on his feet throughout his DM career.

“In a few hours, I’ll be tired and sore,” he said  Saturday afternoon. “Then, you hear about kids who’ve had seizures their whole lives. ... There’s no comparison.”

The best feeling every year is the big revelation of how much money the event raised, he said. When they broke the $500,000 mark last year, the crowd went wild.

“That’s when you realize why you did it,” Michel said. “You raised half a million dollars for Shands.”

While DM used to last for 32 hours, it was changed a few years ago to make it more manageable for both the participating students and the professors who expected to see them in class Monday morning, Brighton said.

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The event isn’t just about dancing, though. Michel characterizes it as more of a stand-a-thon.

People spend a lot of time wandering around the arena talking with friends, but inevitably they’ll hear a song they can’t help but dance along to.

DM is run by a staff of students who prepare all year to raise money and plan a fun weekend for the participants.

The event included theme hours where the music, food and activities revolved around a specific idea, Brighton said. This year, ‘Dynamic Duo’ hour and ‘Bro’ hour were among the selected themes.

The staff also planned a rave for Saturday night, complete with laser lights and a DJ.

But the fundraising doesn’t stop when the dancers first stand up.

A makeshift jail cell was set up in the arena where prominent participants, such as Student Government members, were placed during the marathon.

Each person set his or her own bail, and they couldn’t leave until they raised the money by calling and emailing potential donors.

Student Body President Ashton Charles raised $500 in 2010, and the staffers expected similar success from the DM prisoners this year.

Speakers like Gator football offensive coordinator Charlie Weis also came to cheer on the students as they stood without giving in to the urge to sit down, even if only for a moment.

The best speakers, however, weren’t Gators athletes or coaches, they were the children from Shands who came with their families to see the dancers  — the children living with cancer and other health problems who DM participants aim to help each year.

Sometimes veteran dancers recognize children from past marathons.

“We literally see these kids grow up, year after year,” Brighton said.

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