Since apparently nothing on this campus can stick around too long without becoming controversial, it’s worth commenting on the recent controversy surrounding the UNC Dance Marathon. I find myself in the rather odd position of agreeing with the Daily Tar Heel, though for slightly different reasons.
My first encounter with Dance Marathon was fairly weird. I was walking into Lenoir going to get something to eat, when I was rushed by a guy dressed up as a big, pink fairy (complete with wings). He promptly asked me if I wanted to join Dance Marathon “FOR THE KIDS!!!!!” As I still possessed a modicum of self-respect, I told him no and made a quick beeline for the door. The experience only went downhill from there. Earlier this year, I had to go up to the CR office for some reason or other and had trouble getting into the office because Dance Marathon had set up what looked like an Occupy CR Office event in the suite (complete with BO) and there were people strewn all over the floor.
Now, I think that Dance Marathon’s “cause” is admirable, but their technique needs some work. Part of the problem they are probably not able to replicate the success of a similar program at Penn State is that (from all appearances) they rely on student dancers to raise money from their friends and family (who, probably don’t have much cash to start with). Additionally, their recruitment technique is primarily limited to getting up in people’s faces and screaming “IT’S FOR THE KIDS!!!!!!!” which aside from its rather Orwellian undertones is a rather poor way of convincing people to help you.
I know personally, a fairly off-putting aspect of the event is the rather sanctimonious and self-righteous attitudes of some of the organizers and the general self-congratulation that seems key to the whole event. Of course, this is not unique to Dance Marathon. Indeed, it seems to be a growing trend these days. There are races and marathons and runs and walks and dances, all for different causes, many of them quite worthy causes. But what do these events actually do? After all, it’s not as if a donor to Dance Marathon is suddenly going to pull his donation because a couple dancers didn’t show up. He’s doing it (for lack of a better word) FOR THE KIDS!!!! not for the dancers.
But then, who are the dancers dancing for? I would argue that they are, in fact, dancing for themselves. What does standing all night in gym really accomplish? Is it helping anyone? Does anyone benefit from my completing exhausting myself and feasting on Jimmy John’s all night? No, of course not. The real benefit from this event comes from the people who are actually forking over the money (though, in fairness, many dancers work hard to raise this money). The people standing in the gym all night aren’t really doing anything, though they are able to get that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with associating yourself with a good cause. The marathon part of the Dance Marathon is largely for the benefit of the dancers. Dance Marathon serves a good cause, but the rather egocentric nature of the marathon is a bit of a turnoff (it also eats up a fair amount of money).
Now, this isn’t to say that the marathon could become a little less self-serving in the future. Perhaps, instead of standing in a gym all night eating cold pizza and listening to bands no one’s ever heard of, the dancers could find something a little more productive to do. The possibilities here are really endless. They could go volunteer at the hospital for 24 hours and go entertain the kids for a bit, or find some other way of assisting with the mission of the Children’s Hospital. They would still get that nice, warm feeling inside them from knowing that they’re improving the lives of sick children, but they’d also be doing something meaningful.
And that is my largest criticism of the event. It’s not that the group doesn’t raise enough money or doesn’t serve a worthy cause, it’s that the marathon does very little to further the mission of the Dance Marathon. Dance Marathon should ditch the marathon and find something more productive for its 2000 dancers to do.