Nearly six months of planning. More than 230 participants. One hundred pizzas. Thirteen committee leads. An eight minute dance. Six hours full of entertainment. A grand total of $31,855.87 raised. West Ottawa’s sixth Dance Marathon was a smashing success.
The night was full of activity and motion. Three groups rotated throughout the night from station to station. While one group learned the dance, another completed a craft to send to children at Helen DeVos, and another took a break over on the side.
But when the clock strikes 7:35, the lights go out. Background music enters the foreground. After ten minutes, the lights switch back on and the music recedes. The West Ottawa Varsity Dance Team runs out from a hidden hallway to perform. The night is meticulously planned to keep everyone engaged and moving from activity to activity.
Throughout the night, five families who have been affected by Helen DeVos tell their stories to the crowd. Some stories are heartbreaking, but families all end with a big smile and a “thank you” to everyone at the marathon.
But here in Holland, there is an even bigger marathon put on by Hope College. This year will mark Hope’s 19th Dance Marathon. As of 2017, Hope’s event has raised over $2 million for Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. Just this year, Hope raised $311,442.19.
A portion of West Ottawa’s success can be attributed to Hope. Six years ago, government Instructor Brian Taylor kicked off West Ottawa’s history of Dance Marathon with some help from Hope. “West Ottawa started our first Dance Marathon when [I] was approached by former student, and then current Hope student Danae Frost [who] asked [us] to participate,” Taylor said. Six years later, the tradition is still standing strong. After four years, Taylor passed on the mantle of Dance Marathon advisor to Instructor Bethany Willcock.
One of Dance Marathon’s most impressive qualities is found behind the scenes. Dance Marathon is entirely planned, organized, and run by students. Both Hope and West Ottawa split the planning of the event into a number of sub-committees. For the most part, these committees have the same responsibilities as their counterparts in the other school. One committee raises money through fundraising. Another plans the events of the entire night. But Hope has one special committee that West Ottawa does not: a committee that assists the high school throughout the planning process.
Kelly Ann Arnold is a Hope student on this committee. “Our job is to help coordinate and ensure success for two high school marathons in the area: West Ottawa and Zeeland. We refer to the high school marathons as mini marathons,” Arnold said. She and her co-chairs attended the mini marathons at the two high schools. At these mini marathons, Arnold and her compatriots take a step back and let the high schoolers run the event.
But where does the money go? Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital receives 100% of the money raised by the Dance Marathon events in the Holland area. The hospital offers housing for the families of patients in the Renucci House, a hotel-like living space. A $50 donation pays for a family to stay one night in the house. Just $200 can pay for a cast for a child with a broken arm. The amount of money raised by the Holland area could allow 6,228 families to stay one night in the Renucci House or 1,557 casts. But any amount donated makes a difference.
Dance Marathon is an amazing event that has spread to colleges and high schools across the country. This year was the first Spartython, an event at Michigan State University very similar to Dance Marathon. Grand Valley State University and Western Michigan University also have their own versions of the event. Even if you missed out on West Ottawa’s Dance Marathon, there is still a good chance you can get involved in similar events after high school.