Last Saturday saw the return of the Stanford University Dance Marathon (SUDM), a student-organized fundraising event benefiting the Lucile Packard Children’s Fund. The charity helps cover the cost of healthcare for under-resourced patients at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.
Dance marathons first came about in the 1920s and 1930s as competitions of endurance, presenting an opportunity to earn cash during the Great Depression. Historically, contestants were required to dance for hours on end to avoid disqualification, with only brief and infrequent breaks. Last weekend’s event was decidedly less intense — participants were free to come and go as they pleased. Every hour, organizers engaged the crowd with 30 seconds of choreography to “High Hopes” by Panic! At The Disco.
Set up in a fenced-in area next to the Claw, the marathon took place over the span of 12 hours, running from noon to midnight. Participants paid a fee of $15 — 100% of which went to the Children’s Fund — to gain access to the poker-themed space. Inside, tables were set up with poker, roulette and board games.
The real attraction, though, was the event’s lineup, which kept participants moving with performances by various student groups. An instructor from the Arrillaga Outdoor Education and Recreation center even taught a high-energy, hour-long Zumba lesson. From Fleet Street to the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band, campus favorites dropped by throughout the afternoon. Along with takeout from Chipotle, Salt & Straw and more, these appearances helped draw curious passersby to participate in the event.
The fundraiser gained momentum over the course of the day, reaching its peak at 9 p.m. with student indie music group Banana Bred. Lead singer Elliot Dauber ’23 kept a modest crowd entertained with a mix of original songs and covers of well-known favorites like Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” and Declan McKenna’s “Brazil.”
Keeping with the purpose of the Dance Marathon, Dauber urged his audience to dance, jump and move their hands throughout the performance; his call to “dance extra hard” was met with enthusiastic head-shaking and jumping. At the end of the band’s set, cheers of “encore!” pierced the night. Guitarist Matt Reed ’23 took the lead in suggesting a rendition of “Tommy’s Party” by Peach Pit.
“We’re gonna learn a song right now,” Dauber said laughingly to an elated crowd as he pulled up the lyrics on his phone.
Attendee Sofia Vera ’25 said the band “did an amazing job of setting the mood and making people dance.” She added that overall, the marathon felt “very well-organized.”
“It was really nice to see how the group managed to make a service event that was for a really good cause super fun,” Vera said.
Another highlight of the fundraiser was the “Patient Hero Hour” at 5 p.m., when two patients of Lucile Packard spoke about the hospital’s awe-inspiring impact. They shared stories of their medical trials and tribulations, emphasizing the generous support they had received from Stanford medical professionals throughout their treatment.
Paul Fisher, a human biology professor and chief of the hospital’s Division of Child Neurology, spoke about the wide range of patients the hospital serves. Its nationally-recognized quality of medical care draws patients from outside of Palo Alto and even beyond California — Fisher told the crowd about a Honduran asylum seeker who sought treatment for her child’s brain tumor.
Over one-third of Lucile Packard’s patients are on public insurance, leaving them with significant gaps in coverage. The Children’s Fund helps take the financial burden off families, broadening the capacity of the hospital. According to the 2021 Children’s Fund Impact Report, 40% of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital patients benefited from this financial assistance.
Dance Marathon Co-Director Elyse Lowet ’24 said that her involvement with the club stems from “a general desire to increase accessibility and affordability of healthcare.” She felt that the event was an opportunity to pursue this goal while having fun and building community.
Co-Director Jack Christian ’23 echoed Lowet’s sentiments, saying that “there are often lots of cracks when it comes to socioeconomic status in the healthcare system, so I think it’s a very important cause to be involved with, even as an undergraduate.”
Twelve members of the broader SUDM club staffed the event, most of whom were from the organization’s event committee. Those who weren’t overseeing the entry booth had to be on their feet for the majority of the event.
Both co-directors felt that the excitement of the event outweighed the exhaustion. “We meet every week starting at the beginning of fall quarter, and everything that we do kind of leads up to this one day, so I think that we have a lot of adrenaline going in,” Lowet said.
They also had fond memories of the pre-pandemic fundraiser in 2020, which was held just before COVID-19 sent students home. “It was kind of like a last hurrah,” Lowet said. Though SUDM still held a modified three-hour virtual event last year, Lowet characterized 2022 as “a rebuilding year.” For one, younger members have stepped up to fill leadership roles after older students graduated. The co-directors also saw this year’s marathon as an opportunity to regain the momentum lost during the virtual year.
“We are really proud of the event that we did put on,” said Christian. “We really focused more on raising awareness for the hospital, for the cause, and we had a really strong showing at the event.”