From an empty stage to $2.2 million: How UDance happens
Associate News Editor
In less than 24 hours, an estimated 6,500 people would enter the Bob Carpenter Center to sing, dance and cry. But for the moment, the arena was an empty slate, waiting to be filled with memories and meaning.
A red carpet highlighted the walkway from the check-in table to the arena’s floor, as tapestries waited to adorn the corridor walls. Balloons were arranged into an arch that led to the dance floor beneath a rig of concert lights hovering four feet from the ground. Beyond all the wires and cases of tech equipment stood an empty stage.
A stage where, 36 hours later, top fundraisers would hoist cards that read $2,252,081.70. For now, the stage was empty.
It took 120 students, divided into teams, about seven hours to prepare the Bob Carpenter Center for UDance. Each group had a different task to perform in order to make the next day as meaningful as possible.
“Every year this event is a huge success,” Arielle Waller, UDance’s media relations chair, said. “As long as we are spreading the word … and honoring these families, … I’m going to be happy with whatever I see up there because that number reflects how many families we’re able to provide financial assistance for.”
At the heart of this goal are the B+ Heroes, the children battling cancer and whose families benefit from the money raised during UDance.
Directly inside the arena’s entrance, a table adorned with dozens of bags labeled with the heroes’ names served as an immediate reminder to the volunteers behind the year-long effort.
UDance’s athletic liaison, Colby Atkinson, believed setting up the heroes’ check-in table brought back memories. Atkinson was once a B+ Hero himself. He was adopted by the university’s baseball team for UDance in 2014.
“When I came to UD, I came to UDance because I wanted to be a part of it and help other families have the same experience,” Atkinson said. “It means a lot to me just because I know what these kids have gone through.”
Beyond the front table and down the red carpet, a cohesive swarm of workers manned the light fixtures. According to Financial Director Jake Cardarelli, lighting and stage costs eat a significant chunk of UDance’s annual $140,000 operating budget.
The company that UDance rents through, Light Action Productions, helps alleviate some of this expense by offering the equipment to UDance at minimal cost, without making a profit.
Perfecting the lights is a must for Cardarelli, who said the large cost is justified by the experience the lights create, especially during Rave Hour, the final 60 minutes of UDance that lead up to the reveal of the organization’s final fundraising total.
DJ Chair Patrick Clarke is in charge of building the energy leading up to that reveal. Clarke, also known by his stage name DJ Redcoat, said that he has envisioned his Rave Hour performance since he attended UDance last year.
“I had this vision of just being on stage and just making the place bounce, like everyone just bounce,” Clarke said.
He will perform during the first half of Rave Hour before heading backstage to help prepare for the reveal of the total amount of money raised.
Between allotting time for the line dance — the routine that all attendees perform hourly— stage setup and reveal preparation, Clarke said he would have between 23 and 25 minutes to play his 19-song set.
“You can build a cool set in two hours, but 25 minutes is tough,” Clarke said. “For me, it’s been about packing in as many good moments as I can into as little of a time as possible without making it feel jumpy.”
Allison Worms, UDance’s special events director, flies around the arena, clipboard in hand, walkie talkie clipped to her pants, addressing any problems that sprung up. She oversees UDance’s logistics, ensuring any necessary preparations are finished in a timely fashion.
The limited prep-time that the UDance teams have in order to prepare the Bob Carpenter Center poses many organizational challenges for Worms. To prevent things from devolving into chaos, she assigns each team two tasks to complete throughout the day.
Managing all the workers and filling in the gaps when needed is a difficult undertaking for Worms, but she said it would be worth it to see everybody appreciating the final product.
“I’m hoping when we leave here [tonight], we will feel good,” Worms said. “Tomorrow, besides the little things that have to get done, it will just be enjoying from there.”
Even if all of the pieces come together and everyone works like cogs in a well-oiled machine, the collective effort is in vain without the fundraising.
Grace Perigaut, UDance’s assistant director, individually raised the most money of this year’s event. Tallying $10,150 raised as of Saturday morning, Perigaut said she “left no stone unturned” during her fundraising.
“I have reached to out to everyone from family, friends, neighbors, teachers, professors, doctors, dentists, hairdressers, senators, family friends, … alumni, literally just everyone,” Perigaut said.
Perigaut had to get creative if she was to earn every dollar that she raised. She said one of her tactics was to film music videos of popular songs, including “Mama Mia,” for donations.
Perigaut finds constant inspiration in the kids for whom she’s raising the money.
“Whenever I hear a new story or meet a new kid or a new family, I think it always pays off,” Perigaut said. “The day of UDance is that day where you can really see everyone there and see the kids there and see the families there and just see these memories that they will be able to take with them forever … This is where it pays off.”
UDance first raised $8,000 in 2007 when it was founded. Last year, it raked in a record $2,019,210.48.
Waller said that the UDance’s goal is always to set a new record each year, but she said she would be happy no matter what the total came to.
The grind to accomplish this goal requires dedication to teamwork throughout the entire year, Waller said.
“If one person is slacking, it does hinder those little things,” Waller said. “It’s really important that all of us are just on the same page, constantly communicating, showing up both emotionally and physically, just so we can make the magic happen.”
All hands are on deck today. As soon as the doors open, every emotion will be on display. Smiles will be plentiful, but tears will be too.
Emotions take sharp turns like a roller coaster. Anticipation grows like one of Clarke’s mixes as it builds to a drop. Dancers, heroes and their families line up at the door under the common hope to someday cure the world of pediatric cancer, waiting to see the culmination of a year’s worth of dedication, passion and fundraising.
It’s time. The drop. Doors open and the magic For The Kids begins.
Welcome to UDance.