Dancing for a Good Cause
by ROBERT DUNKELBERGER, UNIVERSITY ARCHIVIST
From 27 couples at its start, two dancers remained on the floor after 86 hours and one minute to win Bloomsburg’s first dance marathon, originally organized as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Breaking the world record of 84.5 hours established by the Guinness Book of World Records, the exhausted couple, Manny Santayana and Sherry Warmkessel, received $300 and gifts from local merchants, while the Cancer Society’s local chapter received approximately $6,000.
The marathon that began in Kehr Union on Jan. 24, 1975, was expected to end on Sunday, Jan. 26, but continued on for two more days. Rules designated each dancer’s body must be moving at all times, with only their hands and feet touching the floor, and couples had to dance 50 minutes of every hour. The definition of dancing was loose, since the contestants sometimes played cards or threw a Frisbee. Local bands played music and Scranton Commons and local businesses provided food and beverages.
Subsequent marathons were typically held in late January or early February and organized around a particular theme. In 1976, for example, the theme was the United States Bicentennial and the marathon was limited to 50 hours in duration, one for each state, to avoid serious injuries. Contestants began the marathon dressed in costumes. They answered historical trivia questions and were eligible for prizes based on money raised and number of hours danced. Dancers received longer breaks than the year before and could take a shower after 30 hours.
Originally an independent event, the marathon became a service project sponsored by the Program Board. By 1978, 33 contestants completed 50 hours of dancing in front of an estimated 1,500 spectators in Kehr Union’s Multipurpose Room and raised more than $9,000 for the American Diabetes Association. In addition to the endurance contests, the marathons began to include one or two 12-hour mini-marathons. The theme of the smaller events in 1978 was The 60s with couples competing in contests where they danced the Frug, Jerk, Limbo, Mashed Potato and Twist.
A variety of charities benefited from the proceeds over the years, including the Easter Seals Society in 1979, the first year the marathon was held in Centennial Gym; the Mental Health Society of Columbia and Montour Counties in 1980; the Multiple Sclerosis Fund in 1981, and the American Red Cross – Bloomsburg Chapter in 1982. Much of the money came from classmates, who pledged 5 or 10 cents an hour up to a maximum of 20 hours.
In addition to college students, entrants included local residents, senior citizens and high school students; of the 171 marathon registrants in 1983, 77 came from Bloomsburg High School. Local bands continued to perform, supplemented by music from the campus radio station’s large collection of records and, at the completion of each successful marathon, balloons fell from the ceiling.
Beginning in 1985, the dance marathon was limited to 25 hours in length, with one 10-hour mini-marathon.
Participation began to decline, with just 20 dancers participating in the final Program Board-sponsored event in 1987.
Although interest lessened at the end, the 13 dance marathons held from 1975 to 1987 raised more than $80,000 to benefit charitable causes. The students at Bloomsburg University wanted to make a difference while having fun … and they did. •