UF students dance the night away

Kevin Griffin leads a dance practice at Dance Marathon 2013 in the O'Connell Center on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, Fla. on Saturday, March 13, 2013.

ASHLEY CRANE/ Correspondent
Published: Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 5:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 5:55 p.m.

The people packed into the middle of the O'Connell Center sat on the floor waiting restlessly for the action to start. This would be their last chance to rest for the next 26 hours.

Saturday marked the start of the 19th annual Dance Marathon at UF. Sponsored by a variety of local businesses and organizations, the marathon raises money each spring to benefit the patients of Shands Hospital for Children at UF, part of the Children's Miracle Network.

"I'm so excited," said Nakisa Behi, a 19-year-old marketing major at UF, just minutes after the dancing started. "We have a purpose. It's such a good cause."

The opening ceremony started at 10:30 Saturday morning, but the dancing didn't start until 11:48 a.m. The students who signed up for the cause would be standing nonstop for 26.2 hours, with the closing ceremony starting 1:30 p.m. Sunday. The seemingly arbitrary length was actually picked for good reason: because a marathon is 26.2 miles, said Nicole Martinez, spokesperson for Dance Marathon at UF.

Different themes were in force throughout the day, like a superhero-themed dance hour that started at 4:30 p.m., or a rave hour that went from 1:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. DJ VA-YE, who plays at 101 Downtown and Cantina, kept the music going, along with several bands.

There were about 800 people there to dance the night away, Martinez said. Almost all the dancers are usually able to last the whole marathon. To keep the morale high, friends and family of the dancers made motivational signs to plaster on the walls surrounding the dance floor.

Donations were collected at the entrance, and a silent auction right off the dance floor raised money for the Children's Miracle Network. A mock jail was set up on the side of the room. Throughout the night, various people representing sponsors and local Greek chapters were locked up. In order to win their freedom, a minimum of $250 had to be donated to release each person. Donations are also being collected at www.floridadm.org.

In 2012, Dance Marathon at UF raised about $886,000 for Shands Children's Hospital, Martinez said.

"We don't really set goals," Martinez said. "If we could just raise one more dollar than last year, it will be a success."

The Children's Miracle Network will use about half the money raised for new medical equipment and games and activities for the children, while the other half goes to research, she said.

Thirty families of children who have been helped by the Children's Miracle Network were at the O'Connell Center on Saturday.

A little after noon, the people on stage were done teaching the crowd this year's line dance — there is a new one every year.

Dancer Nakisa Behi said it felt good to be part of something that makes a difference in the lives of sick children.

"We're standing here for them," she said.

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