The largest student-run philanthropy in the world, a weekend full of reflection, excitement and emotion, and a pinnacle of hope to all those that have, or are currently fighting the battle against pediatric cancer. Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, popularly known as THON, is truly cherished in Happy Valley, and it continues this way while students fight for a cure. In February of each year, more than 700 Penn State dancers participate in the no-sit, no-sleep 46-hour event held in honor of those who lost their lives to, and those who are still fighting, pediatric cancer. Over 17,000 students fill the Bryce Jordan Center throughout the weekend cheering dancers on, bonding with their THON organizations and spending time with their THON families. These students partake in a year-long effort to raise money for the Four Diamonds fund and Penn State Children’s Hospital so that no family affected by this disease ever needs to pay a singular medical bill.
As THON weekend 2020 has just come to an end, let’s celebrate the Top 10 Moments at THON 2020.
1. Dancers Stand Up – The Start of THON
Posted by Penn State THON on Thursday, June 13, 2019
The dancers begin their 46-hour journey on Friday at 6 p.m. The THON executive committee stands on stage and counts down from ten. The dancers stand up, and THON officially gets going. The Bryce Jordan Center fills with cheers as excitement builds up inside each individual. Think of a more indescribable feeling than what you earn from acknowledging the endless memories, countless laughs and smiles, and brand new bonds formed.
2. The Line Dance
Each year the Dancer Relations captains create a line dance that gets performed every hour. The dance aims to keep dancers, families and spectators energized and it undoubtedly strengthens the bond between the Penn State community. The line dance is an upbeat compilation of countless songs, and the lyrics are written by the DR Captains for each specific THON year. The lyrics reflect on what happened on the Penn State campus within the last year as well as what events happened in the world within the past year.
3. Kids Fashion Show
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The Kids Fashion Show allows Four Diamonds children to dress up in costumes crafted by Penn State students themselves. The kids choose to dress up in whatever they would like, and then they walk out in front of all the students and dancers who do not hesitate to cheer them on. “Kids Fashion Show is a true representation of what THON means,” said Lindsey Macrae, the 2020 family relations captain and Kids Fashion Show director. “My co-captains and I met a few of these families at the beginning of our journey and some of the children could barely walk. Now it is the end of the THON year and they were able to strut across the stage linked arm and arm with their organization members, their extended family.” For these kids, it may be one of the only times they can forget about the daily struggles they endure.
4. Pep Rally
Most definitely one of the most anticipated events of each THON, the annual pep rally presents Penn Staters with a small taste of what they miss so dearly: football season. The event is held on the Saturday night of THON. And, in typical Penn State fashion, the pep rally is a whiteout. First, the Blue Band performs a variety of their game-day chants to get the crowd fired up. Then, each Penn State sports team competes against one another in a dance competition. Each team performs a dance they have choreographed and two certain Four Diamonds child select a winner at the end. This year, Men’s Gymnastics took home the title. Pep rally spreads a burst of energy to the dancers when they’re hurting, and showcases the renowned Penn State spirit. “When I was standing there at the pep rally with my friends, fellow dancers, and 17,000 other students, I looked at my parents and said, ‘how could you not want to go here?’,” said Natalie Burns, a 2020 dancer. The loving energy is irreplaceable.
5. Silent Disco
THON’s silent disco lasts as an hour for the dancers to take a bit of time to themselves while still staying encouraged with music. Each dancer is given a pair of headphones and the option of three stations: blue, green and red. They then choose which station to tune into, dancing with those around them on the same station. The silent disco allows dancers to bond with one another in the dancer annex and it switches up their source of music and motivation. “Silent disco was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had in my life,” Burns said. To anyone walking into the annex without headphones, the view of 700+ students jamming in silence might look bizarre, but the hour remains a dancer’s favorite.
6. Cash Cash Concert
Each year THON features a performer that remains top-secret until they step foot on stage. This year, Penn Staters were thrilled to boost their energy and morale with EDM group Cash Cash. Saturday night, Cash Cash lit up the stage for THON, creating a truly electrifying atmosphere for everyone in the BJC.
7. OPP Slides of Strength
Another THON weekend staple is the Slides of Strength event conducted by the OPPerations committee. During Slides of Strength, dancers slide down a long tarp coated with loads of baby powder. Several dancers slide at once onto their stomach, and for ten seconds they get a quick massage from the OPP committee members. For the dancers, this feels like heaven after they have been standing for what feels like an eternity. Slides of Strength has been a THON tradition since the beginning of the marathon in 1973.
8. Final Four
Around 4 a.m. on Sunday morning, the Bryce Jordan Center hit capacity. 17,000 students and dancers were inside and anticipating the Final Four hours. The Final Four is meant to remind students why Penn State does what it does, and why the dancers stand for 46 hours. It is a raw and emotional time. The last four hours of THON include tributes to those who have lost their lives while fighting pediatric cancer, a celebration tribute to those who have won their battle against the ruthless disease, a recap video of THON 2020, and at the end, the dancers sit down on the floor of the BJC, having completed one of their greatest accomplishments. While tributes are being played, the jam-packed arena stays astoundingly muted. Emotions overtake the air. “Watching videos about the kids in remission and being able to look down at our healthy THON children on the floor was chilling,” said Emily Leinhart, a Penn State student and Epsilon Sigma Alpha organization member. “Not only is that amazing for their immediate family but being a part of their THON family has been such a privilege.” These are the hours that put the overwhelming cause into perspective.
9. Family Hour
The first hour of the Final Four is the family hour. The hour begins with the procession of the Four Diamonds families that are present at THON. Three Four Diamonds families are asked to speak on stage and share their stories with pediatric cancer. Some families have overcome the disease, some are currently fighting it, and some live every day honoring their child who has lost their battle.
10. Grand Total Reveal
After the dancers have taken their seats, the grand total of THON 2020 is revealed. Every donation made goes into this total, each penny in pursuit of a cure. The THON executive committee stands on stage with posters that reveal the overall total. This year, Penn State raised $11,696,942.38, For the Kids. Dancers fill with relief and students cheer with happiness, celebrating the year-long effort Happy Valley contributed to fighting a cause much bigger than the university.