Dance marathon underway. (Jill Norton photo)

I could have danced all night.

And all morning. All afternoon. And into the next night as well.

After being cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19, and going virtual in 2021 for the same reason, the Northwestern University Dance Marathon (NUDM), a million-dollar student fund-raiser, is back in a big white tent behind the Norris Center on campus.

More than 900 students are dancing from 7 pm Friday until 1 am Sunday, among them, Samara Lipman.

“I was in the tent my first year, and absolutely fell in love” with the 30-hour event, she says.

Now NUDM marketing co-chair, Lipman, a Medill journalism senior from suburban New York, says this year’s marathon is one of the most important in the event’s 48-year history.

The reason: because “only one grade” in the past three years has actually experienced the marathon in person, Lipman says.

Sign-in table for NU Dance Marathon teams on Friday. (Jeff Hirsh photo)

“That’s why it’s important to get back in the tent this year,” so students can appreciate the fun, and commit to keeping the event alive.

“The goal this year is to re-establish the marathon and save its legacy,” Lipman explains.

Of course, a major part of that legacy is raising money for charity. Even the virtual marathon last year netted more than $700,000.

But $1 million-plus is normal, as students ask for donations on campus or in town, along with contacting family members and potential benefactors.

Dancing all night. (Jill Norton photo)

This year’s total will be announced as the marathon concludes.

The money has gone to the Evanston Community Foundation for the past quarter-century, along with another different non-profit every year, in this case a charity called Chicago Youth Programs.

Besides returning to campus, Lipman says this year also marks a change in the marathon’s philosophy and structure for those taking part.

From its founding in 1974, NUDM was heavily tied to fraternities and sororities, which provided many of the dancing teams, and raised a lot of the money.

But with the recent push against Greek life at NU, Lipman says the marathon has changed how teams are assembled, hoping to make the event more welcoming to a larger variety of participants.

Instead of multiple small teams, there are four large ones, with entrants assigned at random.

“This year is a transition year,” Lipman notes, conceding that moving away from Greek teams might actually mean fewer dollars raised, at least in the short run.

“The money will come,” long-term, Lipman says, “althought it might take a few years to build up to that,” if more people get involved.

Lipman thinks they will .

“I do dance marathon for the cameraderie,” she says.

While the marathon lasts 30 hours, students do not have to stay on their feet the entire time. Breaks are allowed.

But sore toes and heels are still a possibility.

Lipman says it’s well worth it.

She says the in-person first-year marathon was “one of the most genuine experiences” in her college life.

When the event ended, Lipman was about to do what most college students do … use her cell phone and take pictures.

But someone else told her “don’t film it. Just be here” and take in the experience.

Lipman did.

“It would break my heart,” she says, “if the marathon did not continue.”

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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