The Northwestern University Dance Marathon is about to become a mini-marathon, or at least, more mini than it used to be.

Still challenging, still lots of time on the dance floor as part of a charity fundraiser, but NUDM 2024 (the 50th anniversary of the event) will go for 15 hours instead of the previous 30.

Grace Dyer, a senior in pre-med and also the marathon’s executive director, tells Evanston Now that student feedback showed that staying up for 30 hours on the dance floor (with some breaks) was keeping potential participants away.

Dyer says the shorter dance period should actually help the overall purpose of assisting a worthy cause, in this case, Ronald McDonald House Charities.

“No way will the 15 hours make us less money,” Dyer says.

“I think we’ll get more people and more contributions. The length of the event is not necessarily related to how much we raise.”

Each team in the marathon is a fund-raising entity, bringing in contributions from friends, family, school organizations and businesses.

Sign-in table for NU Dance Marathon teams, 2022. (Jeff Hirsh photo)

The most recent marathon raised about $434,000, Dyer says.

While that’s a lot, it’s still below pre-COVID totals, which sometimes topped $1 million.

Participation is also lower than it used to be.

NUDM ’23 (this past spring) had 750 registrants. Pre-COVID it was often more than 1,000.

“We’re hoping the change [fewer hours] will make it more accessible and get us back closer to the pre-pandemic numbers,” Dyer says.

NUDM was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and in 2021 it was live-streamed for the same reason.

The shift from 30 to 15 hours coincides with the need to move, at least for NUDM 2024, from the traditional site, a tent on the east lawn of Norris Center.

Dyer says that site will be undergoing renovations in the spring, so the marathon will be held at Welsh-Ryan Arena on March 29 and 30.

NUDM is also bringing back a 5K fund-raising run, which will be held this Saturday, Oct. 14 at the lakefront.

In the old days of the marathon, the 5K was actually held at the same time as the dancing.

“That’s just crazy,” Dyer laughed.

The run “sounded like a fun idea, but we didn’t want to do it at the same time as the marathon,” Dyer explains. Hence, the different date.

The move to Welsh-Ryan and going to 15 hours are an experiment, Dyer says. The results will be evaluated, to decide what to do for NUDM ’25.

However NUDM ’24 works out, Dyer says taking part (she’s been involved in the marathon since freshman year), and now being the lead organizer are both fun and a great learning experience.

Growing up in another college town, Columbia, Missouri, Dyer was co-president of her high school marathon.

Her mom, an NU alum, took part in NUDM, but “only for one year,” Dyer says.

Dyer says dancing in the 30-hour marathon “was absolutely exhausting, but really incredible.”

“Hopefully,” she notes, “this time it won’t be quite as exhausting, but still will bring that feeling of accomplishing something special” by bonding with teammates and helping a good cause.

(Each year, the primary recipient changes, although the charity often is one involved with helping children and their families. The main recipient receives 90% of the funds. The Evanston Community Foundation gets the other 10% each year).

The common, movie-driven impression of dance marathons from the 1930s are of couples falling asleep on their feet while vying to be the last one standing.

That’s no longer the case at NUDM, where they all stop at the end, rather than hanging on until everyone drops out except the winners.

But … when NUDM started, Dyer says, they did use a “last couple standing” format to determine a champion.

With NUDM ’24 being the 50th anniversary of the event, Dyer says the leaders hope to bring back participants from years gone by, even from the very first marathon, to watch, or maybe even to dance for a few minutes in the upcoming NUDM.

“I love the idea,” Dyer says.

For more information about the marathon and how to contribute, go to

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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