American dancer and choreographer Agnes George de Mille once said, “To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful…” She could have easily been speaking about the Bridges’ Teen Leadership Council Dance Marathon, through which hundreds of dancers have made a powerful impact on the lives of others.
Ranked eighth most-successful high school dance marathon in the country, the annual event raises critical dollars for the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
On Nov. 2, the marathon once again broke all records by meteorically blowing past their fundraising goal of $75,000 and 150 attendees to instead raise well over $92,000 from the efforts of nearly 300 exuberant hoofers.
“I was going to be super excited if we could raise $5,000, even less than that,” says marathon co-founder Annabelle Backer, 20, in speaking of the event’s first year. “The fact that we have raised over $200,000 (since 2015) is absolutely incredible. I was not expecting it to be this big and successful.”
Organized by and for teenagers, the Lurie Children’s Teen Leadership Council, known as the “Bridges Board,” initially brought together New Trier High School of Winnetka and Loyola Academy of Wilmette for the annual dance-off. The Board has since extended its reach to include North Shore Country Day School of Winnetka and Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart of Lake Forest to aid in their efforts.
“They’ve increased their fundraising every year,” says Brigid Stegemoeller, development officer, Children’s Miracle Network Programs, Lurie Children’s. “Although their event is only one day a year, they are really working and planning all year long to really support the hospital.”
Nonprofit Lurie Children’s is ranked as the top pediatric hospital in Illinois, and one of nation’s top hospitals by the U.S. News & World Report 2017-2018 Honor Roll rankings.
Funds raised by the Bridges Board go to the areas of greatest need. Most recently, the resources have gone toward in-patient room expansion, social and family services, research, and to cover uncompensated patient care.
“As a nonprofit and safety-net hospital, we rely on aid so that, when there are costs that are uncompensated from insurance or if … a family is unable to pay, we have backup systems in place (to) make sure that we are treating first and worrying about payment later,” says Stegemoeller.
The Bridges Board leads the Dance Marathon and is presided over by Loyola class president Elizabeth Smith, alongside Emily Lorenz and Megan Hoying of New Trier.
“One thousand kids from Wilmette are treated (at Lurie Children’s) every year and there are only 27,000 people in Wilmette. So that is just something crazy to think about,” says Smith. Altogether, Lurie Children’s cares for some 220,000 children annually.
“A lot of the time it’s their peers at the hospital, people their age, the age of their siblings, or people they’re babysitting,” says Stegemoeller. “To have people in the very communities that we serve really care about the hospital, standing up, giving back, and committing to the hospital, is just extraordinary.”
Staged throughout the five-hour dance bash are performances from different groups, including Loyola Academy’s Ramblerettes, Loyola Academy Dance Company, and Extensions Dance Company. There is also a knock-out battle, a lip sync battle, and even a group routine, known as The Morale Dance, which is taught in sections throughout the night by the Ramblerettes and which then the entire dance hall performs as one at the end of the night.
“It’s a really fun event that gives you direct patient interaction,” says Smith.
At the top of each hour, a different patient family or someone who has been treated at Lurie Children’s speaks to the dancers about the impact that the hospital has had on them.
“It’s being part of something that is really huge and bigger than yourself and giving back directly to the neighborhood around you,” says Smith. “You get to meet patients while also fundraising for treatment and services that makes (the patients’) hospital time effective but also enjoyable because of … the top care and research that is being provided at Lurie’s.”
For Backer, whose event co-founder is her mom, Julia, a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse, and whose dad, Dr. Carl Backer, is a cardiovascular-thoracic surgeon at Lurie Children’s, this was a labor of love.
“A lot of the (kids) are in critical condition and every single thing that we can do to help them makes a life-changing impact on their lives,” says Backer. “Other families don’t have a lot of what we have, so it’s really important to be able to give back.”
To donate and support the patients served at Lurie Children’s, visit the Dance Marathon website.