When they said dance for a day, they meant it
To some, a dance marathon may sound like a fitness fad or some form of punishment, but to April Littlejohn, 19, of Auburn it was a way for her to help raise money and spread awareness about pediatric HIV and AIDS.
During the weekend of Feb. 16 and Feb. 17, Littlejohn, a Colfax High grad, danced for 26 straight hours at the University of California Los Angeles. UCLA Dance Marathon: 2013 was organized by the Pediatric AIDS Coalition (PAC) at UCLA to help raise awareness and funding for HIV and AIDS.
It is the largest collegiate charity event in California and PAC is the largest student-run philanthropic organization on the West Coast. Since its launch in 2002, the Dance Marathon at UCLA has raised almost $3.5 million dollars, benefiting the work of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), Project Kindle, a camp for HIV-positive children in the U.S., and the UCLA AIDS Institute. This year’s 900 student participants raised a record-setting $475,422.57.
Littlejohn, a sophomore studying international studies and Spanish, saw the 26-hour marathon as a great chance to help give back.
“The dance marathon was incredible. It was physically one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done,” Littlejohn said. “It was amazing to see that even when I was hitting a wall and wanted to sit down or cry, hundreds of people who were in the same state of exhaustion as me were out on the dance floor, jumping, dancing, fist pumping their hearts out. That’s what kept me doing it for so long without taking a break.”
The event included: live musical performances by Asian pop band BLUSH and former “The Voice” contestant Jamar Rogers, appearances by celebrities such as actress Fancia Raisa from “Secret Life of the American Tennager, and motivating speeches from attendees such as EGPAF’s Hydeia Broadebent and Florence Ngobeni-Allen, campers from Project Kindle, Hillel Wasserman, an AIDS awareness advocate, and HIV-positive son of Elizabeth Glaser, Jake Glaser.
“One woman told us her story of becoming HIV positive at birth and being told she wouldn’t live to five years old,” Littlejohn said. “She celebrated her 29th birthday recently. Her words to us were that, ‘You were given this life because you’re strong enough to live it.’ That phrase became sort of the fuel to many dancers, the mantra of Dance Marathon: 2013.”
UCLA Pediatric AIDS Coalition Social Media Chair and UCLA student Kendall McManus has participated on the committee for two years and is proud of the marathon’s ongoing success.
“Each year I am more and more impressed with the outcome of Dance Marathon. This was my third year participating – my freshman year as a dancer then last year and this year on committee – and I am consistently blown away by the passion and motivation displayed by my fellow committee members and those dancing,” McManus said in an email to Auburn Journal.
According to Dance Marathon: 2013 Director of Public Relations Lesley Girkins, it is important that events such as the marathon raise awareness about pediatric AIDS because it is medically preventable with proper prenatal treatment.
“Around the world, there are about 1,000 new children diagnosed with pediatric HIV everyday,” Girkins said in an email to the Auburn Journal. “That’s where education comes into play, and that’s what Dance Marathon at UCLA aims to do: educate our participants, particularly the UCLA students, about HIV, how you contract it, and what it means to be HIV positive as a kid. If people are educated on the issue, then they will know that they can be part of the solution to the problem. Through their donations they are providing the funding needed to grant HIV positive women access to the medical care that will prevent them from passing this disease onto their children.”
According to Littlejohn, her experience with Dance Marathon: 2013 will be something that she will never forget.
“Getting to hear first-hand stories from the people whose lives were influenced by HIV and who the money was going toward made all the pain, exhaustion, ankle-swelling, fatigue, and delirium 150 percent worth it,” Littlejohn said.
The dance marathon began at 11 a.m. on Saturday Feb. 16 and ended at 1 p.m. on Sunday Feb. 17, in the UCLA Ackerman Grand Ballroom. More information can be found at www.bruindancemarathon.org.