By Payton Carns

Next week raiseRED, the University of Louisville’s annual 18-hour dance marathon, will return for its 11th year. Fundraising money for the Norton Children’s Cancer Institute and the U of L Department of Pediatric Oncology and Hematology, raiseRED is the university’s largest student-run philanthropic organization. Since their founding they have raised over 4 million dollars; in 2023 alone, they raised over $551,000. 

Every year, the event takes U of L students by storm, bringing in over 1,000 participants annually. Though the marathon falls at the end of February, the organization works year-round to ensure that its participants are actively fundraising and getting excited about the big day.

From pre-events like trivia nights and fundraising parties to the bustling agenda of the marathon itself, here is everything you need to know about the 2024 raiseRED Marathon, which starts Feb. 23th at 6 p.m.

The Before

Although those 18 hours are the main event, the preparation in the months prior is just as important. Registration opened up for dancers on Nov. 1st, and since then there has been a collective push to get as many people to sign up as possible to start raising money. 

After registration, students are sorted into a “morale team”; the group of fellow dancers they spend the marathon with. These teams are headed by “morale captains” members of the raiseRED staff who lead their dancers through the many events the marathon has to offer. They ensure that each dancer meets their minimum fundraising requirement of 200 dollars to attend the marathon, and, just as importantly, get dancers excited for raiseRED.

Part of this excitement is rooted in the events raiseRED hosts before the marathon. Starting in the fall semester, the organization has hosted percentage nights, fundraising parties, and other informational meetings to get the word out. 

raiseRED hosting a fundraising party for dancers and staff in January. File Photo // Payton Carns, The Louisville Cardinal

As the marathon date gets closer, the staff focuses on fundraising pushes, including “matching hours” where raiseRED alumnae and other partners match any donation a dancer receives in the designated time frame.

Due to how daunting raising the money can seem, sophomore Noah Alesachra noted that there’s an importance in educating dancers on these fundraising opportunities.

“I’m trying to make it more personable as opposed to just saying ‘raise this money’ or ‘meet this deadline,'” he said. “There are on-campus opportunities where they can volunteer and get donations to their page.”

Most recently, raiseRED partnered with the University of Kentucky DanceBlue Marathon and Western Kentucky’s Dance Big Red Marathon for their annual Commonwealth Cup, a united fundraising effort that supports pediatric patient needs across the state.

Between Jan. 22nd and 26th, all three organizations raised a combined total of over $135,000.

The “why”

The heart of the organization lies in its students, whose passion comes from close ties to the “why” of raiseRED’s platform. 

As two seniors who have been involved with raiseRED in some way since their freshmen year, E-Board members Caroline Thomas and Jude East can speak to this passion. For East, signing up as a dancer was just a way to get involved at the university, but he has since developed close ties with the staff, dancers, and the community that raiseRED support.

“Over the past few years, I’ve learned other people’s stories and gotten close with those people,” East said. “We’ve become like a huge family here.”

The students and staff are not the only groups of people that attend the marathon. Every year, raiseRED creates a Cardinal Crew, which is a partnership between patients and college students. This way, kids and their families can attend parts of the marathon and have a familiar face to look for in a U of L student. In years past, children and their parents have often even taken the time to share their stories with the dancers during the marathon.

A guest family at the 2023 marathon shares their story with the dancers. File Photo // Hevin Ramsey, The Louisville Cardinal

For Thomas, this connection between the children and the dancers is a reminder of what the organization is fighting for. She participated in dance marathons in high school and wanted to continue to do so in college because of her connection to the cause. 

“One of my best friends in high school was actually diagnosed with pediatric cancer, so that has always been my motivation for why I continue to come back,” she said. “Just knowing that he never got the high school experience that I got, I want to try to make sure kids nowadays will get that high school experience.”

The Changes

While raiseRED’s goal is unwavering, the event has had to implement changes over the years to reach that goal most effectively. 

Take morale team size, for example. Before this year, each team had one to two morale captains responsible for the dancers, increasing the number of groups yet keeping them small. This year, they cut the team size down to nine and assigned three to four captains per team. 

While this almost tripled the size of the groups, Alesachra believes this aids in keeping track of the dancers, further boosting the enthusiasm as the hours pass. 

Another change came with the registration process. In previous years, dancers could register just days before the marathon, so long as they met their minimum fundraising requirement. This year, however, registration for dancers closed on Jan. 18 over a month before the marathon. 

Initially, Alesachra worried about how this would affect numbers –college students can be notorious for putting things off. However, he has cited more positive results from this change, the hope being that once the dancers are registered, there can be a large fundraising push past the minimum threshold. 

“I’m excited to see the turnout because I think we will be able to really focus on just raising more money,” he said. “As opposed to just register and get your 200. We shouldn’t stop there, we should keep pushing.”

This new registration process is a pilot that The Children’s Miracle Network, the nonprofit organization that partners with raiseRED, is implementing across other dance marathons statewide, such as DanceBlue Dance Big Red. 

The Big Day

The 2024 raiseRED marathon will fall on Friday, Feb. 23rd this year, beginning at 6 p.m. and going until noon the following day. Their home base is in the SAC Ballroom, where dancers will meet up with their morale teams to check in and kick things off.

Dancers can expect a detailed agenda of action-packed events throughout the 18 hours, including specific themed hours, karaoke, and sports tournaments. While an official itinerary has yet to be released, East has been working to fine-tune some marathon favorites in his role as programming coordinator.

“The main events that you can look forward to are the dodgeball tournament and the silent disco,” East said. “We also do all kinds of events with the families themselves, so the kids get to interact with us which is always a great experience.”

Thomas, East, and Alesachra all unanimously voted the Silent Disco, an event in which dancers can jam out to all different kinds of music programmed into their pair of headphones as their favorite raiseRED staple.

Students will again fill the ballroom of the Swain Student Activities Center for raiseRED, the University of Louisville’s student-led 18-hour dance marathon to raise funds for pediatric cancer. Photo Courtesy // U of L Photo

Above all, the raiseRED 2024 staff are most excited to see everyone show out for the marathon and fully immerse themselves in the experience.

“We want to see everybody there,” Alesachra said. “We don’t want anybody to be left behind.”