Members of the Pediatric AIDS Coalition holding up the fundraising total for Dance Marathon 2017

For a lot of Bruins, Spring Quarter is the best part of the academic year. The flowers are in bloom, festival season is in full swing and the campus is abuzz with the year’s biggest events: Commencement, culture nights and the Dance Marathon organized by the Pediatric AIDS Coalition at UCLA.

PAC’s Dance Marathon is a much awaited event, a mark of campus unity with over a 1000 bruins pledging to stand on their feet for 26-hours to show their support for the fight against Pediatric AIDS each year.

While this type of event may seem like an unorthodox way to raise awareness about such as serious issue, we at PAC, believe that Dance Marathon’s extreme format is one of the main reasons why we consistently shows amazing results. Dance Marathon caters to the Millennial and Gen Z philosophy of philanthropy which is centered around a “experience and celebrate humanity” philosophy.

According to the 2016 Millennial Impact report, Millennial are less likely to participate in random one-off donations because of strict financial budgets and would rather prefer donating their “time” to events in the forms of walks, runs or other physical activity. The report also elaborates on how an increasing number of people in our generation are showing “cause loyalty” or consistent interest in one particular social issue as opposed to general altruism.

Dance Marathon is one such millennial-tailored philanthropic experience. At DM, students and dancers get the opportunity to tangibly interact with the cause- the prevention of Pediatric HIV/AIDS- through interaction with child Ambassadors — every color team has a child ambassador who is personally impacted by HIV — and other prominent people and organizations in the HIV community which strengthens their connection to the cause and ensures loyalty. For most dancers, Dance Marathon is not simply a fundraiser but rather an “experience investment” that they have the opportunity to engage in every year.

For most dancers, Dance Marathon is not simply a fundraiser but rather an “experience investment” that they have the opportunity to engage in every year.

Dance Marathon’s format is also an advantage when examined from the vantage point of a major trend in philanthropy: crowdsourcing or microfinancing. The rise of the Internet Age and social media has connected causes to interested donors and has created the “giving layer of the internet” — something that PAC has grossly benefited from. The bulk of the money raised by every dancer is done through crowdsourcing — through mass emails and online softwares like Data Does Good. Dance Marathon, in a sense, is an extension of the communal altruism seen on the internet.

Crowdsourcing also has other non-financial benefits. It not only helps PAC exponentially increase the amount of money it fundraises — last year PAC raised $430,000 which is almost 10 percent of the total money we have raised since our inception in 2002– but it is also an effective way to educate others.

Even a simple fundraising tool like a mass email often contains basic information about our cause that corrects misconceptions about Pediatric HIV/AIDS. For example, most emails contain some variation of the phrase, “it only takes $19 to prevent a child from contracting pediatric HIV.” This simple phrase contains two important bits of information about our cause: Pediatric AIDS is completely preventable, and the medication required to prevent it is extremely inexpensive.

Mass emails, texts and and one-on-one outreach conversations are conducted by our 1000+ participants every day leading up to the event in order to help them meet their fundraising minimum of $260. This extensively helps spread information about our cause to key demographics like parents and friends of our dancers that PAC would otherwise not have access to.

It’s also important to note that all of the cause education done through fundraising outreach is a by-product and dwarfs in comparison to the actual cause education that takes place at Dance Marathon itself.

We tailor our event around the cause and make sure that every dancer who enters Pauley Pavilion leaves with new knowledge to help them educate others and combat stigma in the future.

We tailor our event around the cause and make sure that every dancer who enters Pauley Pavilion leaves with new knowledge to help them educate others and combat stigma in the future. This cause education is primarily done through three ways: Cause Corner, exhibitions, and vigil hour.

Cause Corner — which is overseen by our cause education team — is the area at Dance Marathon where dancers go with their color teams to play games that help them gain information from our cause education team about both the AIDS epidemic and its impact on children. Last year, for example, we had a spin the wheel game where dancers learned basic facts about HIV like modes of transmission, number of people currently infected with the HIV virus, etc.

The cause education team also creates exhibitions that shows the art activism that has been created during the fight against HIV/AIDS. Last year, the cause team displayed parts of an exhibit called “Through Positive Eyes” which is a collaboration between the artist Gideon Mendel and the UCLA Art & Global Health Center and shows the epidemic in its fourth decade. For DM’18, the cause team plans to exhibit a piece of the AIDS quilt– a project that was first started in 1987 and has grown exponentially to currently contain 48,000 panels, most of which contain names of the people who lost the fight against HIV/AIDS.

It is the movements behind these exhibits that have allowed organizations like PAC to be born. By sharing slices of these exhibits with our dancers, we are not only celebrating and acknowledging the work of the activists before us but also showing how our cause ties into a narrative that first began in the 1970’s and continues to this very day.

However, the most powerful education tool in our arsenal is Vigil Hour which is Hour 16 of the DM. It is during this hour that the child ambassadors share their stories about being impacted with HIV/AIDS, stories of stigma and discrimination.

“We try to make HIV/AIDS more personal. Dancers explore their own feelings and emotions in regards to feeling unloved, marginalized, or bullied and how this corresponds to the feelings that may be felt by someone infected or affected by HIV/AIDS as a result of stigma.” says Katie Dahlerbruch, a fourth-year UCLA student and Director PAC’s Cause Education team this year.

The experiences shared by the child ambassadors and other speakers help make the cause more tangible and drive home the point of an event like the DM; it helps dancers realize exactly what these 26 hours mean and makes them realize the importance of the physical stress they just endured. By taking a literal stand for 26 hours, the dancers are protesting a lifetime of injustice and stigma for those infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

By taking a literal stand for 26 hours, the dancers are protesting a lifetime of injustice and stigma for those infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

Dance Marathon is so much more than a fun — and extreme — distraction from the monotony of studies at UCLA. Dance Marathon is activism in creation, an experience that converts dancers from mere financiers of a cause to carriers of tools and knowledge that they can use to educate others and combat stigma all on their own.

So yes, while sometimes Dance Marathon may seem like a small effort in comparison to the massive activist movements against AIDS from the last 4 decades, I would like to remind you that oftentimes we only need a small drop of incentive to cause ripples of change. And these ripples created at DM, we hope, will someday travel enough to become powerful waves that destroy the shores of stigma that currently surround our society.

To see what DM really looks like, check out our our Outro Video from 2017 and register to participate or donate at: https://www.up4thefight.org/ucla2018.

Written by Appurva Goel