Dance marathons became popular in the United States during the Great Depression. The popularity of dance marathons began in 1923 when a woman named Alma Cummings danced continuously for 27 hours with six different partners. After Cummings established her record, dance marathons became common in the United States. Initially, participants competed in order to break Cummings's record, but later on people began to compete to win prizes, which could range from money to publicity.
Dance marathons were a huge hit during the Great Depression as they provided contestants and spectators food, shelter and the opportunity to earn cash prizes, at a time when many people needed a meal and free entertainment. The dances were popular at this time not only because these events supplied basic human needs to both the contestants and audience, but are also popular due to the sadistic pleasure, or power the audience felt through watching the contestants compete in the grueling event.
Rules vary widely, but one common rule of the marathon stated that the participants could not fall asleep, although some marathons would allow one part of the team to sleep as long as their teammates continued dancing. It was important for the team to keep moving because if they stopped, they would be disqualified from the contest. Contestants were only allowed to leave the dance floor for hygienic or medical purposes, to change clothing, or for other similar circumstances. Oftentimes, the type of music played at a dance marathon changed throughout the duration of it. It consisted of a mix of slow and upbeat music to give the contestants breaks and also keep them going and energized. Spectators were allowed to come in and watch the marathon and the contestants competing. Often, viewers were able to pay 25 cents to watch the marathon for as long as they wished.
Although many people supported marathons because they were sources of entertainment, there were outside groups that opposed the marathons. Some external groups did not like what the marathons were doing to participants. Movie theater owners, church groups, and women's groups were among those that opposed the marathons. Movie theatre owners were unhappy because people were paying to watch the marathons instead of attending films. Churches were unhappy with the way that the contestants danced with each other as it was not socially acceptable during the time period. Women's groups were upset because they thought it was unethical to charge spectators to watch dancers humiliate themselves.
In 1928, Seattle passed an ordinance prohibiting dance marathons within city limits when a woman attempted suicide after competing in a 19-day marathon and receiving 5th place. Other states followed Seattle's precedent shortly after. Although marathons were extremely popular, they were also dangerous. During a marathon in the 1920s, a man named Homer Morehouse was the first contestant to dance in the marathon, but after dancing for 87 hours, he collapsed from exhaustion and died on the dance floor.
Today, over 250 colleges and high schools nationwide participate in dance marathons of some sort to raise money for the Children's Miracle Network. Each year, students organize and host different types of dance marathon events in which participants stand on their feet for 12–40 hours straight.
Founded in 1972, Northwestern University Dance Marathon, commonly referred to as NUDM, is one of the nation's largest student-run philanthropies. The event unites more than 1,500 students, faculty, and staff to participate in the 30-hour dance-a-thon at the end of the winter quarter. The primary beneficiary is chosen each May, and over 300 committee members work throughout the year to help organize the event and raise awareness. In 2013, NUDM raised $1,214,632 to benefit The Danny Did Foundation. In 38 years, NUDM raised more than $13 million for 30 different charities.
The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, commonly referred to as THON, is a 46-hour-long dance marathon that takes place every February at Pennsylvania State University to raise money to combat children's cancer. THON was started in 1973 by the university's Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council, and in its first year raised more than $2,000. Today, it is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world with an overall total since 1977 of more than $127 million. In 2011, THON raised $9,563,016.09, in 2013, $12,374,034.46 and in 2014, $13,343,517.33. The money raised is donated to the Four Diamonds Fund, a charity devoted to defeating pediatric cancer through research and treats patients at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center Children's Hospital.
In 2015, the 25th annual Indiana University Dance Marathon, commonly referred to as IUDM, raised $3,880,025.22 for the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. To date, IUDM has raised over $23 million for the Ryan White Infectious Disease Center at Riley.
Dance Marathon at University of Florida, commonly referred to as DM at UF, is an annual 26.2 hour dance marathon that takes place every March or April to benefit patients at the University of Florida Health Shands Children's Hospital in Gainesville. In the 20 years of DM at UF, more than $10.5 million has been donated, which makes it the most successful student-run philanthropy in the southeastern United States. In 2016, DM at UF broke records with a total of $2,434,315.18 raised for the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals at the University of Florida Health Shands Children's Hospital.
Terp Thon at the University of Maryland was founded in 2009 and has since raised over $1.8 million For The Kids at Children's National Health System in Washington D.C. 100% of the fundraising efforts go directly to Children's National so that no family is turned away due to their inability to pay. Terp Thon creates events throughout the year to aid fundraising and awareness efforts. Each year, Terp Thon continues to break records and in 2014 became the youngest dance marathon to enter the Top 10 Dance Marathon programs in the country. In 2015, Terp Thon raised more than $600,000.
Purdue University Dance Marathon, commonly referred to as PUDM, was founded in 2005 and has since raised over 5.5 million dollars for the kids at Riley Hospital for Children. PUDM consists of a number of fundraising events throughout the year all leading up to an 18 hour dance marathon each fall. PUDM is the youngest dance marathon to have reached a million dollars and is the largest student-run organization on Purdue's campus. In 2015 PUDM raised a record setting 1.1 million dollars.
Florida State University Dance Marathon (FSUDM)
With more than one beneficiary, FSU’s dance marathon benefits CMNH and the FSU College of Medicine Pediatric Outreach Program. FSU’s dance marathon Executive Director Felicia Armstrong participated during her four years of college and loves the sense of community the marathon brings to both students and families. “[It’s about being] a part of something bigger than yourself,” she said. And it’s definitely bigger than any of us with over 1,000 students participating in letter-writing campaigns and sponsorships with local businesses, like Insomnia Cookies, to raise money. The marathon has raised more than $6 million for the kids since 1996. This year alone they raised $1,830,167.28 under their "Do More" Campaign.
Rutgers' 30-hour Dance Marathon has raised over $4 million for Embrace Kids Foundation, which aids families of children with cancer and blood disorders with non-medical needs. Dance Marathon at UCLA, in its 11th year in 2012 and raised a total of $3 million, benefits the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Project Kindle, One Heartland, and the UCLA AIDS Institute. The University of Iowa Dance Marathon was founded in 1994 and in 2013 raised $1,529,650.19 to support oncology patients being treated at the University of Iowa Children's Hospital. Stanford's Dance Marathon benefits primarily Partners in Health and FACE AIDS, and they also choose a local beneficiary each year. The Dance Marathon at the University of Michigan (DMUM) raises money to support programs at the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, part of the University of Michigan Health System, and William Beaumont Hospital. The money raised for these therapies allows DMUM families to participate in various therapies. Participants of DMUM volunteer at these therapies in order to build relationships with Dance Marathon children. Every March, Participants of DMUM stand 30 hours at Michigan's Indoor Track and Field to show their dedication to the children, families, and hospitals they support. UDance Marathon at the University of Delaware has raised over 3.4 million in 8 years for the B Positive Foundation, and holds its 12-hour event every March. Most recently, in March 2016, UDance efforts raised $1,701,667 for the Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation.
Other colleges that have dance marathons include: West Virginia University, Syracuse University, Hope College, Elon University, University of Georgia, The Ohio State University, University of Louisville, University of Texas at Austin, University of Kentucky, University of Southern California, Indiana University, University of Central Florida, Florida State University, University of Alabama, Auburn University, Rutgers University, Stanford University, Bowling Green State University, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, University of Connecticut, Washington University in St. Louis, UCLA, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University, Wake Forest University, Ball State University, University of Iowa, Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa, University of Michigan, Purdue University, University of Florida, University of South Florida, University of Utah, University of Missouri, University of South Carolina, Temple University, Vanderbilt University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and DePaul University.