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Dance Marathon

Students revamp Dance Marathon for 50th anniversary to foster accessibility

“We want it to be open to anyone who wants to participate and be a place where absolutely everyone at Northwestern feels welcome.””

Grace Dyer
Dance Marathon Executive Director

New format, date and location make NUDM a Northwestern tradition for all 

When sophomore Josh Sukoff was assigned to photograph Northwestern University Dance Marathon (NUDM) in 2023, he thought he would snap a few pictures and promptly leave. 

He chose to stay for the full 30 hours. 

“I didn’t know what to expect, but it blew my expectations away,” Sukoff said. “I met some of my closest friends through Dance Marathon. I was taking pictures the entire time. I was dancing. It was the best time.” 

Sukoff is one of nearly 800 Northwestern students who participated in last year’s dance marathon. NUDM is one of the largest independent student-run philanthropies in the nation. Since 1975, Northwestern students have fundraised more than $23 million for over three dozen charities. 

This year, as Dance Marathon celebrates its 50th year as a staple tradition at Northwestern, students will be dancing from Friday, March 29 to Saturday, March 30 in Welsh-Ryan Arena to fundraise for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana and the Evanston Community Foundation. 

The charity provides free housing and resources to parents who are far from home so they can stay close to their child undergoing treatment.  

Each year, around fifty to one hundred organizations apply to be NUDM’s chosen beneficiary. Senior Grace Dyer, the executive director for NUDM, said the executive board unanimously agreed to support Ronald McDonald House because of its mission. 

“When a child is sick, it’s so important for that child to get better around their family,” Dyer said. “It’s really tough on families when they have to travel to their child in the hospital, because that comes with so many extra costs. So, the fact that Ronald McDonald House provides a free space to stay — along with meals and a community for families going through a really tough time — was something that we all felt pretty inspired by and connected to.”  

Dyer said NUDM has two big missions: fundraising for the beneficiary and providing an engagement opportunity for the Northwestern community.  

Students can be involved as much or as little as they would like, according to Dyer, who estimates that she spends around 30 hours in a given week preparing for NUDM.  

However, most executive positions require 5-10 weekly hours of work, and committee members only have a single one-hour meeting each week. Student dancers have no mandated commitments.  

“It’s very flexible,” Dyer said. “You really make the experience what you want it to be in terms of level of involvement. You can choose to come to events that we’re having, and you’re encouraged to fundraise, which can be as simple as posting on your Instagram story with posts and graphics that we give you to reach out to friends and family.”  

This year, the executive board has revamped the format of NUDM to make it even more accessible to members of the Northwestern community.   

The board shortened the dance marathon from 30 to 15 hours and moved back the date to the start of Spring Quarter, so that more students can participate. NUDM was previously held during the weekend before reading week of Winter Quarter.  

“Our goal is that there’s no one who is unable to participate,” Dyer said. “We want it to be open to anyone who wants to participate and be a place where absolutely everyone at Northwestern feels welcome.” 

Sukoff said he immediately felt a sense of belonging at Dance Marathon. Sukoff’s positive experience with NUDM as a first-year student compelled him to join NUDM’s marketing committee the following year so that he could get even more involved.  

Sukoff said NUDM is one of the few events on campus that is both “fun” and “extremely meaningful.”    

“There’s something about seeing that final check going all toward charity that just feels incredible,” Sukoff said. “It’s a feeling where you get the chills down your body. Everybody is screaming. Some people are crying. It’s really a moment that everyone shares together, and for me, that makes the entire 15 hours… worth it.”