UC San Diego’s dancing and singing groups came together to raise money for the children in need at Rady Children’s Hospital.
On Saturday, Jan. 27, anyone walking by the Price Center West Ballroom could see countless dance groups congregating in the hallways, notice volunteers handing out wristbands, and hear the unmistakable first notes to “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King” echoing off the walls. Triton Dance Marathon was about to begin, and there was a hum of energy and excitement in the air as performers rehearsed last-minute eight-counts, sound systems were tweaked, and excited children ran around the ballroom.
This is all thanks to co-directors of the event Eleanor Roosevelt College senior Alice Lu and Sixth College senior Stacey Lin.. The two of them put every ounce of energy they had into the event, and have been around since its induction at UC San Diego.
“We helped found Dance Marathon at UCSD, and we had our first premiere event in fall of 2016. We had performers and patient families, and it was our first opportunity to share with the campus what Dance Marathon was,” Lu said.
Triton Dance Marathon is essentially an opportunity to raise funds for Rady Children’s Hospital. The Disney-themed event had a celebratory feel to it, held in the dark ballroom complete with multicolored dancing lights, a stage for the performers, and a dance floor beneath it for the freestylers and spectators. Around the room were activities for students and children alike, ranging from face painting to henna tattoos to a photobooth. All the signs were written in the unmistakable Disney font, and the kids ran from booth to booth, bouncing around the light-up beach balls scattered across the dance floor as they went.
Salsa dancers, hip-hop groups, a cappella singers, DJs, Bollywood dancers, and more all took their turns on the stage. The UCSD dance team was the final act, and Sixth College junior Sarah Marlowe, co-captain of the team, shared the most fulfilling aspect of being part of Triton Dance Marathon for her.
“The best part about performing at the event is knowing that the impact you’re having is helping other people. We love to dance and it’s fun to support our school, but knowing that your talents, your actions, your effects can help these little kids that are at Rady Children’s Hospital is amazing,” Marlowe said. “They’ve been posting photos of these children they’re going to help on their Facebook page, and it’s really cool to know we’re a part of that, a part of something so big.”
Another dance organization, Movement Exchange, took the stage multiple times throughout the night to teach 16 counts of dance choreography set to different Disney songs. Other dance groups, children, and audience members participated. By the end of the night, the “morale dance” would be completed. Members Earl Warren College junior Shannell Ciruso and ERC sophomore Eric Lee described what participating in the event meant to them.
“The kids and their families are up all night receiving treatment,” Ciruso said. “The least we can do is dance for a few hours.”
As part of Movement Exchange, Ciruso and Lee teach elementary school children off campus many dances, but Triton Dance Marathon had a particular impact on them.
“It’s pretty amazing because we teach kids off campus, but there are also more unfortunate kids at Rady Children’s Hospital that need medical help,” Lee said. “It feels nice to be in this community where everyone is donating and being a part of it.”
But the most important moments of the night belonged to the miracle families who took the stage every hour to share their children’s stories and describe their time at RCH. When the first miracle family was speaking — a little girl named Grace and her mother Laura — you could hear a pin drop in the ballroom. Laura had worked for RCH for many years, but she described her work as being “at an arm’s length,” until her daughter was born prematurely, with severe respiratory issues. She saw the exceptional care at RCH that she had helped fundraise for all her life, and got to bathe and hold her daughter there just like a normal mom.
“The money raised here tonight allows parents, even in their deepest, darkest moments, to be just parents,” Laura said. “Grace has no signs of being born early, and it’s all because of Rady.”
Grace was the picture of childlike innocence, wearing sparkly Ugg boots and her hair in two pigtails. It was almost impossible to imagine her being too ill to breathe. Many other children aren’t as lucky. Another miracle child, Gideon, was diagnosed with leukemia at the end of 2015, but his mother described earnestly how her feeling of devastation only lasted 15 minutes, given RCH’s “magical ability to make [our] needs feel met. They let us know we would make it through.”
Lin described an experience with one miracle family as a highlight of her experience with Triton Dance Marathon. She detailed a situation from last year’s Triton Dance Marathon, her bright eyes shining with pride and emotion.
“Something that really touched a lot of us was that one of our miracle patients was supposed to come at a certain hour, but she fell sick at the last minute and had to be readmitted to Rady Children’s the night before,” Lin said. “She sent us a video speaking from her bed and saying how much it meant to her that people were coming together to celebrate and support the hospital. It was a way to see how much of an impact this philanthropy makes.”
One of Lu and Lin’s other goals was to establish an event that would be campuswide and all-inclusive, and would foster a sense of teamwork in working towards bettering so many children’s lives.
“We’re really proud to partner with Triton Fest. They’ve been helping a lot with funding and publicity and getting students out,” said Lin. “It’s a great cause, but it’s also a great way for the UCSD community to come together to celebrate, and have fun with dancing and music.”
“What sets this philanthropy apart is that it’s so inclusive. It’s completely campuswide,” Lu added. “We have Greek life coming out, athletes coming out, student dance teams and a cappella, all together for one cause. That’s the legacy we hope will continue. The cause is so important, and it’s so great we can bring this entire campus together.”
At the end of the night, members of the dance team revealed posters showing that $3,443 had been raised in support of the children at RCH. Though short of an ambitious goal of $10,000, the money raised is certain to better the lives of children in need.
“The money we raise goes to directly to Rady Children’s, the nonprofit. They will put this money towards treatment, to help families afford it,” Lu said. “We have toured the hospital, and there are a lot of services there that are funded by philanthropy only. For example, the child life specialists, who help explain procedures to the children and comfort them when they’re going into surgery. This is what the money is going towards, as well as the research. Rady is one of the leading hospitals in the country.”
Triton Dance Marathon was clearly driven by a recognition of what the children at RCH’s go through every day and a desire to ease their struggle by applying using their talents to create joy and raise money. Lu and Lin have been blown away by the support they’ve gotten.
“I want to shout-out the entire team. The performers, families, and also the community sponsors we’ve gotten. Our advisor, Ace Antonio, who is the head of Triton Fest. This event is put on entirely by students, and there’s actually only  of us,” Lu said. “This has been a huge commitment for all of us.”
Leading the event has made Lu and Lin realize they are part of something bigger than themselves.
“The moment for me was when we went to Rady, and we saw what the money was going toward. You meet these amazing children and see what they’re going through,” Lin said. “Every time I see how strong they are, how much they care about their Rady family, what they’ve gained from it, and how much it has helped them, that’s what motivates to keep doing this. We’re pulling our hair out sometimes trying to pull off the event, but it’s all worth it for the kids.”
Photo by Jerry Zhou