The University of Iowa University of Iowa

University of Iowa Dance Marathon makes in-person return after three years

Spirits were high as Dance Marathon 29 kicked off at 7 p.m. last Friday, Feb. 3 in the Iowa Memorial Union (IMU). This was the first time the organization was able to host the Big Event in-person since the pandemic began in 2020. The grand total of money raised to fight pediatric cancer was just over $1.174 million.

The night kicked off with a triumphant fanfare in the IMU main ballroom. The space was lined with decorated pillowcases honoring past and current Dance Marathon patients. Opening performances included the Iowa cheerleaders and Hawkeye Marching Band. A group of doctors from the Stead Family Children’s Hospital led the crowd in a chant: “Kids Can’t Wait.”

Hand-decorated pillowcases line the IMU’s walls.

Micah Marasch, 12, said Dance Marathon was a bright spot during his cancer treatments. His father Marek said DM volunteers played with Micah in the hospital and, in Micah’s words, “gave me something to do.”

“It made me happy,” Micah said. Micah expressed excitement for Saturday’s talent show, in which he planned to play Imagine Dragon’s “Believer” on his trombone, by memory.

Micah Marasch with his parents and siblings. From left to right: Lisa, Micah (front), Matthias, Mary, and Marek.

After receiving a Rhabdomyosarcoma diagnosis in November 2017, Micah has been in remission since fall 2018. This fall will mark his five years of survivorship. When Dance Marathon patients (“kiddos”) reach five years of survivorship, they get to walk across the stage at the Big Event in a cap and gown. This year’s “Kiddo Graduation” took place on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 4, and 18 year-old Bailey Kotz was among the honorees.

“I just love being able to come here,” Bailey said about Dance Marathon. “It’s just a special place, I look forward to it every year.” Bailey’s mother, Ashlea, said her favorite part of the Big Event was meeting other families affected by cancer.

Bailey Kotz with her siblings, mother, and aunt. From left to right: Izzy, Claire, Ashlea, Sheana Smith, and Bailey.

According to the American Cancer Society, over 9,000 children younger than 15 will receive cancer diagnoses this year. However, thanks to new medical advances, the 5-year survival rate is now 85%.

In addition to honoring cancer survivors, Dance Marathon remembers all the DM patients who died of cancer. A hallway on the third floor was lined with candles labeled with names of the 286 children who died of cancer, but are still “forever dancing in our hearts.”

The honorary candles stretch down a hallway in the IMU.