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Dance Marathon has been giving back for 50 years

Thousands of families to benefit from students’ fundraising efforts
dance marathon
Over the last 50 years, Dance Marathon’s student volunteers raised more than $23 million that has directly benefited nearly 40 different charities in Evanston and across the Chicago area.

Northwestern University Dance Marathon (NUDM) has a new look in 2024.

Student organizers are gearing up for a big celebration as the time-honored campus tradition returns this week to mark its golden anniversary — 50 years of dance and millions of dollars raised for area charities.

“NUDM has a long, rich and inspiring history, and our team feels so lucky to bring the organization through its 50th anniversary,” said Grace Dyer, senior and executive director of NUDM.

While changes are afoot, some NUDM traditions are unchanged, like the philanthropic efforts. It continues to be one of the largest student-run philanthropies in the country. This year the organization chose Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana (RMHC-CNI) as its primary beneficiary. Coincidentally, Ronald McDonald House Charities Global is also celebrating 50 years of supporting families with children in need of medical care by providing them with free housing, food and other resources while their child is in the hospital.

“It has been an honor to work with RMHC-CNI this year,” Dyer said. “We have learned so much from their organization and even had the opportunity to see the impact they have firsthand at the Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children’s Hospital.”

NUDM’s financial donations will help RMHC-CNI expand their in-hospital programs, including a hospitality cart service that provides families with free snacks, coffee and activities. With this support, RMHC-CNI hopes to increase family touchpoints by more than 10,000.

“The students pour countless hours into NUDM — volunteering their time, fundraising and raising broader awareness for our mission of keeping families close, so they can get better together,” said Megan Kuehl, director of corporate and foundation relations at RMHC-CNI. 

Over the last 50 years, student volunteers raised more than $23 million that has directly benefited nearly 40 different charities in Evanston and across the Chicago area. The Evanston Community Foundation (ECF) also benefits from the fundraising effort.  For the last 27 years, NUDM has shared a portion of the donations to support ECF’s mission of community building through grants and leadership development.

Trying something new

The event, traditionally 30 hours long and held inside a huge tent erected on the East Lawn of Norris University Center, will look different this year. Construction near Norris necessitated the move to Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Since its inception, students laced up their dancing shoes in early March as they prepared for final exams ahead of Spring Break.

Organizers say the event’s date and required time commitment have increasingly become a challenge for some. After reviewing student feedback last year, the NUDM executive board opted to move the event after Spring Break and reduced the length from 30 to 15 hours. Organizers say it’s all part of an effort to make the event accessible to more students, increasing engagement and excitement.

Starting at 8 p.m. Friday night, dancers will participate in five 3-hour blocks full of music, games and student performances. They’ll also be able to engage with Ronald McDonald House families and representatives during the event. Dance Marathon concludes at 11 a.m. Saturday morning. That’s when the final fundraising total will be announced.

Donations for Dance Marathon 2024 can be made online at

For Journalists: view the news release for media contacts