On Saturday afternoon, 836 University of Kentucky students filled the floor of Memorial Coliseum and started dancing.
If you’re reading this story over your Sunday morning coffee, they’re still dancing.
It’s all part of DanceBlue, a student-led 24-hour dance marathon to raise money for the DanceBlue Kentucky Children’s Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic.
The organization has raised more than $5 million for the Golden Matrix Fund, which supports the clinic, since the first dance marathon in 2006.
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Two hours into Saturday’s event, UK junior Anna Bickers said she was having a blast.
Bickers said she spent Friday staying off her feet in preparation for the event, during which students pledge not to sleep or sit down.
“I was laying down as much as I could” on Friday, Bickers said.
There’s no sleeping and no sitting, but there is plenty of fun to be had.
Each hour of the event has a theme
— from A Capella Sing Off Hour, when the AcoUstiKats performed, to Family Hour on Sunday morning, when children from the clinic and clinic staff perform a talent show.
There are also meals provided every four hours, plenty of games and a bank of laptop computers for dancers who might be going through “Twitter withdrawals,” public relations chair Hannah Simms said.
Julian Saeed was spending his time after Saturday’s kickoff visiting with some of those children and their families in the jungle-themed room that had been set up as a “sanctuary” for them during DanceBlue.
“I just love making them feel like a normal kid,” said Saeed, who serves on DanceBlue’s family relations committee and had gotten custom-made Nike DanceBlue sneakers just for the event.
He knows firsthand why normalcy is important.
Four years ago, Saeed was a patient in the clinic DanceBlue supports, receiving treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“I could tell they were brightening up the kids,” he said of the Dance-Blue volunteers who visited then.
Now he’s a senior finance major at UK who volunteers there himself.
UK pediatric hematology and oncology nurse Barbara Waldmann-Ward said DanceBlue has “totally changed everything at the clinic.”
It provides funding for everything from new staff members to a wheelchair used to transport patients around the hospital.
But she said the students who spend hours playing with the children, cleaning toys and performing other support services are just as important.
“They’ve brought so much energy to our clinic,” said Waldmann-Ward, who joined the dancers to learn an 11-minute line dance performed at the top of every hour during the marathon.
Lisa Melton, whose 8-year-old son, Kelly, is a patient, said the students help take the kids’ minds off their medical condition.
“We see somebody (from Dance-Blue) every time we’re at the clinic,” she said. “They get the kids calmed down. They get the kids wound up.”
She said Kelly had been counting down the days until DanceBlue, and he got a special haircut — a mohawk — just for the event.
It’s his first haircut since losing his hair in treatment. His mom said he’s doing “absolutely wonderful.”
DanceBlue is open to the public and runs through 2 p.m. Sunday, when this year’s fundraising total will be revealed.
Last year, DanceBlue raised more than $1.1 million.
While the unspoken goal is always to beat the previous year’s total, Simms said the organization does not set a formal fundraising goal.
“Our goal is to do everything in our power that we can for the families and kids in our clinic,” she said.