It won’t be easy to capture the energy, fun, and passion that fill the Bryce Jordan Center one weekend every February when Pennsylvania State University hosts a 46-hour dance marathon called THON.
But students say they are sure going to try.
For the first time in its nearly 50-year history, the dance marathon will be conducted virtually Feb. 19-21, a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The pandemic has taken a lot away from us as an organization in terms of just some of the things we love to do, but it has not and could never take away the core reason why we function and that is to support children and families impacted by childhood cancer,” said Katie Solomon, a fifth-year senior from Lansdale, who is serving as executive director of THON this year.
On a typical THON weekend, more than 700 dancers fill the floor, and thousands more students and family members are on the floor and in the stands, cheering them on, as they raise millions for pediatric cancer research and patient support. Last year, THON, billed as the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, collected nearly $11.7 million. There’s nonstop rocking music, heartfelt speeches, and dozens of student workers, scurrying about to make sure dancers get all the food and support they need.
This year, dancers will do their dancing individually at their homes. And staying awake and on their feet all 46 hours is not the goal. They have been told to rest between midnight and 6 a.m., given that medical support won’t be on hand as it usually is at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“Everything we are doing this year has safety at the top of our list of priorities,” said Solomon, a criminology and sociology major.
Dancers instead will be asked to perform other challenges throughout the weekend, from participating in games and posting selfies to donning wacky outfits, Solomon said. THON will mail dancers support kits in advance, including water bottles and nutrition guides, she said. Families of cancer patients also will get kits and spectator guides so they can participate.
THON will still film some entertainment events at the center, both prerecorded and live, but no spectators will be allowed.
“Only people who need to be in the building to make it happen will be there,” Solomon said.
The event, which will zoom in on dancers at home, will be livestreamed at Thon.org/livestream.
There are fewer dancers this year. About 625 are scheduled to participate, including Jackie Galang, a nursing major from Hatfield. She said she and her dancing partner had planned to participate before the pandemic hit and their commitment didn’t change.
“We were still very passionate about the mission and wanted to stay true to THON,” she said.
» READ MORE: Stories from the floor: How the 2020 THON unfolded
She plans to decorate her State College apartment with balloons, streamers, and signs and has begun preparing a music playlist.
“We’ll have an open Zoom room for people to pop in,” she said.
THON will still include some of the mainstay events, such as a pep rally and kids’ talent show. New features will be added, including a dancers’ pageant, where participants will show off their attire and skills, organizers said.
Solomon acknowledged that it was tough convincing people that the magic of THON could still happen even if everyone couldn’t be together.
“But THON isn’t any one place,” she said. “It’s this feeling that can be transmitted anywhere.”
This year’s THON theme is Rise and Unify, said Samantha Koon, a fifth-year senior from Parsippany, N.J.
“It really speaks to how this year has come together,” said Koon, THON’s public relations director, who is studying for a master’s in education, theory, and policy. “This is an effort to bring the magic of THON into everyone’s homes around the world.”