With more than 35 hours on the countdown clock, marathoners stretched, danced and wrote “FTK” on their faces, bodies and knuckles while waiting for the opening ceremonies for the 26th annual Indiana University Dance Marathon.
Everyone was jumping and dancing with no signs of tiredness to every song that was played, whether it was a contemporary pop song or a throwback song from the early 2000s.
Hundreds of marathoners chanted, “FTK, FTK, FTK”, while IUDM President, McKenna Duiser, explained exactly what FTK means, For the Kids, and what to expect for the next 36 hours. The spirits were high while the countdown read 35:00:00.
“This is going to be the best weekend of your life,” said an IUDM organizer.
IUDM was started in 1991 by IU student Jill Stewart to honor Ryan White. White was a famous AIDS advocate after he contracted the disease through a blood transfusion. He had planned to attend IU, but died at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health several months before his freshman year.
It has since become one of the largest student-run philanthropy events in the nation.
After the opening ceremonies, the morale committee showed the line dance that would be taught over the next 36 hours. While marathoners did not know the steps at that point, it did not stop them from dancing along.
Senior Jami Weinstein danced, while trying to learn the moves as she watched, and tried to get the people around her to dance, too. Weinstein still had 35 hours more to dance, but she said that she knew she would be able to keep her energy up.
“It’s an unreal feeling because this is my last marathon,” Weinstein said. “I’m not scared or anything though. This is my fourth time doing this, and it’s easy to stand when I know that what I’m doing stands for and is something so amazing.”
IUDM by night
By 2 a.m. November 12, some marathoners had been awake and dancing for 30 hours.
Even at such a late hour, the tennis center remained awash with lights and signs of life.
Cars pulled in and out of the parking lot, and dancers who were signed up for 12 or 24 hour shifts waited outside for their turn in a port-a-potty.
A group of students in navy FIJI sweatshirts chatted and laughed as they left the building, overnight duffle bags in tow.
“That was litty,” one of them said, and the others agreed.
A little farther down the parking lot, a young man in a red IU crewneck sweatshirt paid a Domino’s delivery man for eight pizzas.
Inside, some marathoners zoomed around on Razor RipStik skateboards and scooters, riding over the hair ties, feathers and crushed cans of Red Bull littering the floor. Others walked around in a daze, looking unsure whether they knew what year it was, let alone the time of day.
The energy heightened as Shaggy's “It Wasn’t Me” gave way to One Direction's “What Makes You Beautiful.” Two girls in green fundraising committee T-shirts skipped toward the stage to scream the lyrics.
But their song didn’t last for long.
One Direction was quickly cut off by the theme song for “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” and a cast of Disney characters took the stage.
A marathoner in an Incredibles uniform – he looked like Dash, with a lean body and full head of blond hair – grabbed the mic to welcome everyone to the fourth and final 2017 IUDM Stage Games.
He didn’t have a name for the game that committee representatives were about to play, so he introduced the game as the “Tennis ball and pantyhose game where it goes on your head.”
With a tennis-ball-filled leg of pantyhose on his or her head, each player would face an opponent, lock their tennis balls together and try to pull the pantyhose off the other person.
“One, two three, compete,” Dash said.
Aladdin, Nemo and Mr. Potato Head all watched as marathoners swung their necks around and ran in opposite directions from one another to try to slip the pantyhose from their opponents’ heads.
After three rounds, the green team’s participant emerged as the victor, and Dash reminded those keeping score to give the winner the points he had earned for his committee.
The players and Disney crew then walked away from the stage to the Mickey tune. Someone quickly shut it off.
“I was vibing to that,” Toy Story’s Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl screamed over the music.
As a replacement, AC/DC's “You Shook Me All Night Long” echoed across the center, serving as a reminder that the marathoners still had about five and a half hours left before sleep was even a possibility.
November 12 at 7 a.m. the closing ceremonies were just beginning. Marathoners were still on their feet, and some were still dancing. People were gathered in front of the event stage at the west end of the tennis center. On stage, the morale committee, dressed in rainbow tie-dye shirts and tutus, led the crowd in a line dance.
A mix of pop songs and electronic dance music blared over the speakers, helping to keep marathoners awake and moving. Even so, many simply stood and watched as the morale committee continued to dance.
At almost half past hour 35, signs of exhaustion were clear. While marathoners don’t have to dance the entire night, they are not supposed to sit down at any time. A few crouched on the ground in attempts to rest their legs while others leaned up against tables to rest.
At around 7:20 a.m., IUDM president McKenna Duiser took the stage for the president’s address.
Duiser said that her four years with IUDM have felt like a lifetime. She said that, for her, the experiences of IUDM have always come down to one word – family.
“IUDM is a family of people who hold steadfast to the belief that they can create miracles wherever they go,” Duiser said.
After listening to Alabama’s “Angels Among Us,” arm in arm, fundraisers gathered around the stage once more to await the final fundraising amount. The crowd chanted the phrase “FTK,” over and over until the amount was revealed.
All in all, IUDM raised $4,203,326.23. That’s nearly $51,000 dollars more than last year’s total.
After the total was revealed, fundraisers hugged one another, chanted in celebratory huddles and shed a few tears.
“FTK is a way of life, and we will all carry all of this with us for the rest of our lives,” Duiser said. “Similar to the quote by E.E. Cummings ‘I carry your heart with me. I carry it in my heart.’”
Peter Talbot, Jaden Amos and Lydia Gerike contributed to this report.