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Here at UCLA, we’ve held a 26-hour Dance Marathon every year since 2002 to benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.  This is the essence of a grassroots organization, started by about 20 UCLA students back in 2002.

This is a good introductory video to what our Dance Marathon is all about.  It was made for 2007’s marathon, so yes, we were playing “Don’t Stop Believin’” before The Sopranos made the song famous again.  :-)

And this weekend, we just finished our 10th annual Dance Marathon!  I helped out with moraling for just a few hours starting at 3am this morning.

(Note: This is mostly a repost from 2008, with additional updates for what we've done the last three years.)

For this diary, I was able to interview Dance Marathon committee member Gabe Rose, who’s also our student body president at UCLA.  He was the president of Bruin Democrats last year, and in his freshman year, he started the Student Coalition for Marriage Equality, a student group promoting marriage equality.  I’ll be interspersing his comments throughout.

Before I get to what we do here at UCLA, let me first explain a little about the foundation we help out, and how it all got started.  Elizabeth Glaser was the wife of Paul Glaser, who many of you may remember as Starsky in the TV show “Starsky and Hutch”.  She got the AIDS virus through a blood transfusion when giving birth to her daughter Ariel in 1981, and subsequently passed it on to Ariel and her son Jake, born in 1984.  Paul was the only member of the family not infected with the disease.  Their daughter passed away at the age of 7, causing Elizabeth to form the foundation that bears her name with two of her friends, to try and make sure no other family would have to go through what she had to go through.

As this was still the 1980s, they kept their condition secret to the world.  But the National Enquirer threatened to publish a story about the family having AIDS, so the Glasers confronted it head-on by revealing it themselves to the L.A. Times (read the original August 25, 1989, story here).  60 Minutes also did a piece on them, making Elizabeth Glaser a household name.  She went to Congress to fight for more funding for AIDS research, and gave a powerful speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention (video and transcript here).

She was a fighter, as the Times story showed.

Through a family friend, the ex-school teacher from Long Island arranged a private meeting with Ronald and Nancy Reagan in their White House living room. For an hour and a half, the President listened intently to her.

Later, Admiral [James] Watkins called to tell her, “You’ve done the impossible. You have moved this man.” Apparently, the President talked about her for 10 minutes at a high-level meeting with Watkins and Vice President George Bush to review his Administration’s first AIDS report. But Elizabeth was disappointed with the lack of results. “The Reagans were wonderful, but in reality, his Administration wasn’t going to do more for AIDS. It was a letdown.”

....

After Democratic Sen. Howard Metzenbaum and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch met with her, they offered to co-host a Washington fund-raiser. “I’ll do anything for Elizabeth, anything I can,” says Hatch. The benefit, which raised $1 million, united conservatives, liberals, Washington socialites and Hollywood movie stars. “Can you imagine,” says Kitty Dukakis, who worked with the very Republican Sandy Brock on the dinner, “Elizabeth got Sandy and me to work effectively together. Metzenbaum and Hatch. That’s leadership.”

I encourage everyone to go watch her 1992 speech right now in the link provided above.

Elizabeth lost her struggle with AIDS on December 3, 1994.  But her son Jake lives on, and is healthy.  For the last several years, Jake has come to UCLA to deliver the closing address at Dance Marathon.



Now for the UCLA side of things.  I want to take a walk down memory lane to show you guys what we’ve already accomplished with fundraising for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

April 13 – 14, 2002

In UCLA’s first annual dance marathon, about 190 students will be on their feet for 26 hours tonight in Tom Bradley International Hall to raise money for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

Members of the Interfraternity and Panhellenic Councils collaborated with the Undergraduate Student Association Council, Student Alumni Association and On Campus Housing Council to push forth the fund-raiser in seven months.

We raised about $26,000 that first year.

March 1 – 2, 2003

More than two hundred students danced for 26 hours non-stop Saturday and Sunday to raise money for pediatric AIDS patients and to establish what organizers hope will become a campus community tradition.

The second annual UCLA Dance Marathon, benefiting the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, raised $46,786.09 for the foundation.

February 7 – 8, 2004

From 11 a.m. Saturday to 1 p.m. Sunday, students danced the weekend away at the third annual UCLA Dance Marathon, helping raise $110,782.80 – more than double last year’s amount – for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

“Stay Tuned for the Cure,” the theme to this year’s marathon allowed students to dress up as different TV personalities from various stations like Animal Planet and MTV.

....

Lou Peña and her daughter, Cristina, who are both HIV positive, said they share a sincere appreciation for events like UCLA’s Dance Marathon. Cristina, a student at Pasadena City College, also spoke at the event.

Peña and her daughter, now 19, were diagnosed in 1986, a time when medication for AIDS was limited. Luckily, because Cristina was diagnosed at age 2, she was put on medication immediately and is doing well, Peña said.

Celebrity entertainers and guests such as Kimberly Locke from “American Idol 2” and Steven Hill from MTV’s “Real World Las Vegas” supported the students in their commitment to dance away the epidemic.

Locke, who is actively involved with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, acknowledges the importance to commit time and dedication to awareness and fund-raising for pediatric AIDS.

“It is important to give back especially when I’m in a position to do so ... If this is all it takes for me to give back, it’s such a small gesture that goes a long way,” Locke said.

....

“The (Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS) Foundation pretty much secured my existence because I was put on AZT (an anti-retroviral drug) at the age of 5 and that was due to research from the foundation, because before that, they were not giving medication to children,” Cristina said.

Cristina, who refers to her HIV as a “little wrinkle” in her life, said she does not let her affliction prevent her from doing everyday activities. On top of being a full-time student, aspiring journalist and part-time worker, Cristina still finds time to speak publicly about her situation to nurses, children, doctors and at events like UCLA’s Dance Marathon.

“(The marathon participants) are like masked heroes, I don’t know them personally, but everyone of them is contributing to my life and my longevity ... without them, research and time would be lost,” Cristina said.

And here was a first-hand account from one of the dancers of the memorable moments of the 2004 Dance Marathon, told in the form of a liveblog.  Well, tape recorded, really, and then transcribed.

Then in 2005, Dance Marathon upped its fundraising goal to $150,000, and also moved from smaller ballrooms on “the hill” (where the dorms are located) to our student union’s Grand Ballroom.  So what happened?

February 26 – 27, 2005

From 11 a.m. Saturday to 1 p.m. Sunday, the culmination of 10 months of preparation resulted in nearly 500 dancers staying on their feet in the fourth-annual Dance Marathon. All the proceeds of the event – totalling $197,251.42 – will go to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

“I’ve never been to anything like this in my life,” said Jake Glaser, who was infected with HIV at birth from his mother Elizabeth Glaser.

Due to this year’s increase in participation, Dance Marathon moved from last year’s Covel Grand Horizon Room to the Ackerman Grand Ballroom with the theme “Time to Take a Stand.”

Though it cost more to move the event, Ackerman was able to accommodate more people. For several hours Saturday night, the room was filled to capacity with at least 1,000 individuals.

....

To help support the dancers for the duration of the 26-hour event, moralers would arrive for three-hour shifts to help pump up and motivate the dancers.

Each three-hour shift had a different theme which related to the overall theme of the event, including “Dance House Rock,” “Saturday Night Fever” and “A Knight for the Cure.”

During each morale shift, participants would dress up and the decor of the room would be altered to reflect the current theme. Dancers and moralers learned a “morale dance” to the song “Footloose” which they would perform as a group every time a new morale shift began.

Many sponsors donated to the event, including Apple Computer, which gave computer equipment that allowed students to enroll in their classes during the event and facilitated the first live broadcast of the event on the Dance Marathon Web site.

....

Movie actors Camille Anderson from the upcoming film “The Wedding Crashers” and Terry Lewis from “Starsky and Hutch” helped to teach dancers the Electric Slide line dance.

They then judged the competition to find the person who performed the dance the best. Other celebrity appearances included Tina Majorino, who played Deb in “Napoleon Dynamite,” and Kim Webster from “The West Wing” TV show.

2006 brought about the change of holding Dance Marathon during President’s Day Weekend, so dancers would have Monday to recover from dancing for 26 hours.  Yeah, there’s still this thing called school we gotta do.  Heh.  And we again increased our fundraising goal.

From 11 a.m. Saturday until 1 p.m. Sunday and to the theme “World Tour 2006, Destination: Cure,” 700 students are expected to dance – or at least stay on their feet – for 26 hours in the Ackerman Grand Ballroom.

....

Registered dancers for this year’s Dance Marathon were required to gather at least $225 in donations in order to participate, and organizers hope to raise more than $200,000.

....

[T]his year’s Dance Marathon will be divided into eight three-hour themed shifts spanning several places around the world, including “New York, New Year, Same Fight,” Rio De Janeiro’s “Carnival MasquerAIDS: Celebrate Life” and the Great Wall of China’s “2006: The Year of the DM Dancer.”

Our school paper changed up the coverage of it that year too, with articles specifically on a dancer, a moraler, and a DM committee member, to give different perspectives of the event.

And here’s why fundraising is so crucial for groups like EGPAF.

February 18 – 19, 2006

When the clock struck 1 p.m. on Sunday and the dancers took a seat, UCLA Dance Marathon committee members announced that the event had raised $268,831.31 to fight pediatric AIDS. While the event is over for UCLA students, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation will use the money raised this weekend as part of an on-going effort to find a cure, research drugs, and advocate policy regarding AIDS.

....

Elizabeth Glaser died in 1994, but the Foundation has grown exponentially since the 1980s. With about 130 employees domestically and abroad and a total budget of about $80 million, the organization can also advocate policy in Washington to encourage drug companies to continue funding research and to urge the government to ease restrictions on federal funding, said EGPAF spokeswoman Sahar Moridani.

....

The foundation receives money from private donations, corporations and federal programs, Moridani said.

But federal money has some restrictions. The use of some generic drugs is not yet allowed through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which greatly expanded the foundation’s funding with its inception in 2003, she said.

HIV tests are funded through the federal program but certain other tests are not, she said.

“So we absolutely rely on private donations like UCLA Dance Marathon to fill in the gaps created by the restrictions,” Moridani said.

2007 saw another expansion of Dance Marathon, bringing Camp Heartland and Camp Kindle into the Bruin family.  The goal this time was to raise $300,000.  So how’d we do?

February 17 – 18, 2007

After 26 hours on their feet, participants at the 2007 Dance Marathon at UCLA counted down the last five seconds of the event and sat down with relief on the floor of Ackerman Grand Ballroom.

But shortly after, though many dancers were half asleep and aching from their 26 hours of dancing, everyone in the room stood and applauded when Dance Marathon leaders announced the total amount that had been raised – $330,245.70.

The money, which is tens of thousands of dollars more than was raised last year, will be split among three organizations: 80 percent will go to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and 20 percent will be allocated evenly to two camps for children affected by HIV/AIDS: Camp Kindle and Camp Heartland, said Aviva Altmann, Dance Marathon director.

The amount raised and the enthusiasm from the dancers brought Altmann to tears at the end of the event, when she thanked the dancers, committee members and moralers for their work.

“(It) was incredible. There’s no other way to describe it,” she said Monday, reflecting on the weekend’s event. “There were no problems. I wouldn’t have asked for anything.”

Dance Marathon has consistently grown each year since it started at UCLA in 2002, said Eva Leidman, the media director for Dance Marathon, who also said the event is the largest student-run philanthropic event on the West Coast.

I was there when they showed how much money was raised.  The room literally exploded.  Nobody was expecting THAT much.  This was our local Fox affiliate’s coverage of the event that year.

That year, the theme was School House Rocks.  So each 3-hour shift had intro videos, from cliques to spring break (a hilarious parody) to prom night to career day.

2008 started off with a jolt when a Daily Bruin columnist compared our Dance Marathon to Penn State’s THON, with the idea that we were a bit lacking.

Providing a model for expansion are dozens of other more established programs at universities across the nation. Most notably, last year Northwestern University raised $708,711.20 benefiting pediatric cancer, and Indiana University raised $1,041,197.20 for the Riley Hospital for Children.

Pennsylvania State University’s Dance Marathon, called “THON” for short, is the premiere Dance Marathon in the U.S. At a glance it seems similar to UCLA’s program – in 2007 they had 708 dancers and approximately 3,000 volunteers who worked to raise money for children with cancer.

But THON raised $5,240,385 on President’s Day weekend in 2007, more than 15 times that of Dance Marathon at UCLA in 2007, and has raised over $41 million since 1973, when the program began as a small dance competition. Aspects of their success could perhaps be replicated at UCLA – THON allocates proceeds to their own programs, inspiring further fundraising and awareness on campus; it drives students to compete to raise money primarily in groups, such as in Greek organizations.

Some weren’t happy with that comparison.  As Rose told me, having been around for over 30 years, Penn State’s THON is on a whole other level.  Students raise money hoping for the chance to be able to dance for 26 hours.  It’s just a whole different mindset.  But anyway, there are always improvements to be made, and this year, we sort of took Penn State’s color wars idea and used it.  And this year, Rose said the fundraising goal was about $375,000.  The personal goal of some committee members was to hit the $400,000 mark, but that was an incredibly lofty goal.

As that year's Dance Marathon started, this was the intro video shown to everyone in the ballroom right before the start of the 26 hours.

Interspersed between the 3-hour shifts were video or live segments introducing each new theme, which had something to do with Los Angeles.  So there was a beach theme, a Sunset Strip club theme, a 90210 theme, a downtown L.A. business theme, a Bruin pride theme, a 1984 Olympics theme, a Disneyland theme, etc.   There were also some, ah, "commercials" shown on the big screen at various times.  :-)

But in between those, were also serious videos called "Know the Cause", giving everyone there some sobering statistics about AIDS.

February 16 – 17, 2008

MacLean was one of 779 students to participate as a dancer at Dance Marathon, each raising a minimum $225 and remaining on his or her feet for the entire 26-hour period. More than 1,000 students also participated as “moralers,” entering the dance floor as support every three hours, or as volunteers. By the end of the event, students raised more than $384,507 toward a cure for pediatric AIDS.

The L.A. Times even covered the event.  There were actually concerns from the committee that there might have been too many people that it would've constituted a fire hazard in the Grand Ballroom, but luckily we didn't hit capacity... yet.  Maybe next year.  :-)

February 21 – 22, 2009

The eighth annual Dance Marathon at UCLA was held this weekend as 5,000 participants made the 26-hour philanthropy event the largest in UCLA Dance Marathon history.

....

Kids from Project Kindle told their stories battling HIV and how the organization has helped them throughout their battles. The speeches brought tears to participants eyes, but also a newfound energy to keep dancing for the cause.

The upper level of Ackerman was transformed into an art gallery reflecting the cause of pediatric aids. There were pictures with stories of children who had been infected with HIV since birth and how they have lived with it. There was also a quilt with each piece representing a child who has died from HIV/AIDS.

....

Then a slide show of the event was shown, leading up to the big question, “Who wants to see how much money we’ve raised?”

Loud cheering began as committee members flipped over signs revealing the number. Despite how tired they were, participants stood up to applaud. Dance Marathon raised $362,741.94 toward fighting pediatric AIDS.

February 13 – 14, 2010

Even with the economic downturn, we raised $407,223.73 last year.

February 19 - 20, 2011

A sea of hands flowing in rhythm.

Fist pumps, gigantic leaps, sounds of screaming and tears of joy all came when the 26th hour hit.

$410,530.68. It is the largest amount raised by Dance Marathon to date.

Dance Marathoners came to life as the final amount was presented on placard cards to the crowd.

It was an awesome event as always, and to date, in ten years, UCLA students have helped raise over $2.5 million in the fight against pediatric AIDS.  Chip Lyons spoke at the end of the marathon today to let us know that he was recently in Southern Africa at a hospital, where 114 women with HIV/AIDS had given birth, and 108 of those babies were HIV-negative!  Pediatric AIDS is something that CAN be eradicated now.  We have the medication to prevent it from spreading to the baby in utero.



I sat down with Gabe Rose back in 2008 and asked him some questions about Dance Marathon, fundraising, and the role the blogs can play.  In no way am I a journalist, so if my questions aren't up to your journalistic tastes, that's too bad.  Hopefully I've transcribed what he said accurately.

BK: Anything you want to tell the people on the blogs?

Rose: It’s a really similar idea, you know.  I see lots of similarities between Dance Marathon and the way the blogs work; and that is, it’s the whole idea of one person can truly make a difference.  It's the power of one voice to just a few voices, and the ability to build up a grassroots movement from literally nothing, from literally 15 people going, “Hey, let’s give this a shot”, to having the largest student-run philanthropy on the West coast in just seven years.  It’s crazy, and it’s very empowering to see the type of impact that you personally can have as a moraler or a dancer.

BK: If a college student at another school reading this wanted to start something similar to this at their school, what would you suggest they do?

Rose: I think you just contact as many different people in charge of other Dance Marathons as possible to see how they do it.  Definitely look at the ones that have been successful, like ours or Northwestern’s (they have a really strong one), or Penn State’s.  Just look at a lot of different models, and see what works for your campus.  I mean, it always starts with leadership; you just start finding the right leaders who are down and passionate to make this happen.  Once you get the leadership in place, there’s nothing you can’t do, really.

BK: With all the education and awareness of this and other Dance Marathons across the country, there's still this disconnect with the general populace understanding and recognizing the problem, or the extent of the problem, of AIDS in this country.  Like they think we've controlled it already or something.

Rose: Oh yeah, it was terrible, one of our celebrity speakers at the event actually pushed that line, that we’ve taken care of it already in the U.S.  That was awful, nothing could be further from the truth.  I don't have the exact numbers, but there’s still a staggering amount of people being infected with HIV every day in the United States.  And people think, oh, we can live with this, it’s no big deal; well, it still costs like $20,000 a year in meds, and you’re so sick throwing up from medications that you can’t conduct your everyday life.  Sure, some people wind up being fine, and some people wind up not.  It’s still an extraordinarily deadly disease that we still have no cure for.  And it really disproportionately affects minority communities, lower socio-economic communities, and it’s still really ravaging especially inner city communities in a very real way, and anyone who doesn’t understand that, hasn’t been in the community and doesn’t know.

BK: In terms of raising awareness...?

Rose: I think the burden of that falls on each and every one of us.  That’s what Dance Marathon is all about, more than just raising money, it’s about raising awareness.  It’s about 2,000 people who come to that event over the course of a weekend.  That’s not just dollar signs, that’s impact on people’s lives.  It’s an experience they’re not going to forget.  That’s what we’re trying to do with DM.  And that’s what I try to do every day.  You can’t just rely on the media to educate people; you have to take responsibility in your everyday life to educate people about a cause like this.

BK: You look at the latest polls, a lot of people are concerned about the economy, and Iraq, and it seems like every other issue gets shuffled to the side.  With all these different issues, how do you break through that fog, so to speak?

Rose: I think you break through with things like Dance Marathon, and things like blogs, and person-to-person communication; you have to create a reason for people to raise awareness, it doesn’t just happen by itself.

BK: Since this is your last year, do you see yourself coming back for future Dance Marathons as a dancer or a moraler?

Rose: Oh yeah, definitely.  It was really cool seeing all the people I worked with last year that graduated all come back.  Like, the director from the 2005 Dance Marathon, my first one, he graduated maybe three years ago, and he was back moraling!

So what can YOU do to help?  First we have a YouTube channel at BRUINdancemarathon, where you can watch a lot of the videos they filmed for the two most recent Dance Marathons, to get a flavor of what we do.  Then, visit the website, BruinDanceMarathon.org and donate!  You can technically donate all year long.  Note, however, that donations received now will not be included in the official tally for this year, and they're too early to be counted for next year's tally.  But the money will still go benefit EGPAF and the two camps.

Hopefully I've raised some awareness about what we're doing here at UCLA in getting college students to fight pediatric AIDS, and have shown how a small grassroots effort to do this just ten years ago has grown into the major event it is today.  Just imagine what the size and scope of the event will be in another few years.

I'll close with this touching closing music video from the 1993 movie And the Band Played On, about the AIDS epidemic.  The music is Elton John's "The Last Song".

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