Dancing all night at the Marathon. (Jill Norton photo)

College students raising nearly $600,000 for charity is impressive without a doubt, particularly if the fund-raising event had been, like almost everything else, disrupted by COVID-19.

But still, the amount raised in this year’s Northwestern University Dance Marathon was lower than last year’s virtual total, and even further below what was usually brought in before the pandemic hit.

The 30-hour dance-a-thon this past weekend was the 48th annual chance for NU students to raise money from classmates, families, businesses, and well-to-do benefactors.

In return for those donations, hundreds of students stayed up all night, all day, and into the next night, shaking a big white tent behind Norris Center with their enthusiastic dance moves.

Last year, the Dance Marathon raised some $700,000 during a virtual event. COVID-19 prevented the usual in-person session.

The year before that, the marathon was cancelled altogether, as the pandemic shut everything down just days before dancing-all-night was scheduled. But some $1 million had already been raised by then anyway, according to organizers.

And $1 million was the ballpark figure for previous years as well.

So this year’s sharp drop-off may be cause for concern, as marathoners try to figure out why it fell, and how to increase dollar amounts in the future.

COVID didn’t help. Even though the pandemic is waning, there had not been an in-person marathon since 2019. That means only this year’s seniors had actually experienced the exhausting fun of dancing and dancing and dancing.

One of those seniors, Samara Lipman, told Evanston Now before this year’s marathon that’s why it was so important to have an in-person event this year, to have more students share the cameraderie and not just have mom and dad write a check.

But there may be another issue behind raising less money as well. Lipman, one of the marathon’s marketing directors, said there was a conscious effort this year to move the event away from what it had been for all of its’ previous history, a project dominated by fraternities and sororities.

Lipman said with growing criticism of Greek life among students, the compositon of dance teams was changed to random assignments rather than entries from frats, sororities, and other organizations.

But, she also conceded that “Dance Marathon is struggling” with participation versus bringing in the dollars. De-emphasizing the Greek role may have, at least for now, meant less money.

Of course, $600,000 (actually $581,000) is nothing to sneeze at. And more money is still coming in, so the total will increase. However, it’s not known yet by how much.

The money goes to the Evanston Community Foundation every year, as well as a different second charity. This year, that’s an organization called Chicago Youth Programs.

Whatever the final amount raised turns out to be, getting the marathon back in person was memorable for all who took part. Certainly the end was different, as high winds even forced everyone out of the tent and into Norris just before the conclusion.

Next year, the challenge will be to get more participants, which in turn should mean more money.

“There were a lot of reasons to level the playing field of fund-raising,” Lipman said.

“We want to give everyone the opportunity to fund raise.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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