As I approached the Aberdeen-Inverness Dining Hall, the loud bass from the Senryu Taiko Ensemble drums surrounded the dark sidelines of the building and guided me toward the location of the event. The chanting and drumming grew louder as I entered the A-I Residential Hall and a group of volunteers welcomed me into the club-like room that the dining hall had transformed into for the night.
Every year, UCR hosts the Dance Marathon, an event that strives to bring awareness and raise funds for the now-adult foster youth of our generation in order for them to have the opportunity to pursue an education. The Guardian Scholars Program has impressively raised around $20,000 per year through the event, and they’re not about to let their increased goal of $25,000 this year intimidate them.
“You have to rise to the challenge and be ready to take a stand so even the most disadvantaged students have the opportunity to live up to the UCR promise. We now have 25 scholars thanks to the community,” remarked Tuppett Yates, the founder and director of the Guardian Scholars Program, regarding the $25,000 goal.
Subtle crowds gathered around the prize and raffle booth and the Senryu Taiko Ensemble as the first of many performances ended and DJ Nomad Navi resumed his set. I explored the area from the Just Dance station to the photo booth and finally to the different gaming booths that had taken over the wings of the dining hall. A plethora of uncommon yet fun games such as Office Tennis (you and a friend bounce a wad of paper using clipboards into a trash can), Bad Painters (painting with boxing gloves) and Diaper That Baby (exactly what the name suggests, but with one hand) were boasting tickets that could be redeemed for UCR-related prizes such as bumper stickers and license plate frames.
The evening consisted of more than just dance performances from Room to Dance, a studio in Downtown Riverside created by one of the scholars of the program; Glow with the Flow, a dance done by swinging glow sticks in different patterns; even UCR’s very own competitive dance teams 909 Hip Hop Dance Troupe and Collective Faction. Spoken word, raffling and a donut-eating contest also helped characterize the entertaining fundraiser of a night.
More people began to trickle into the room and the excitement seemed to pick up among the shy dancers chilling on the edge of the makeshift dance floor. Thankfully, pizza, Clif bars, chips, ice cream sandwiches and water bottles were served throughout the night to curb my hunger (and refuel the dancers) as the announcers continued to auction off gift cards that would eventually lead to bigger prizes such as a GoPro and Lakers tickets.
“Down, down, do your dance, do your dance,” sounded through the room and with zero hesitation, everyone rushed to the floor to do the well-known shuffle. By now, the audience was hyped up and soon enough a freestyle circle ensued as we all huddled toward the dancers from 3K (a team from Room to Dance); although my tiptoeing didn’t help against the wall of extremely tall men that had gathered from the previous performance by the Salsa Club in front of me, I could tell by the crowd appeal that 3K was doing an amazing job dancing to Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk. (Who could resist dancing to such a catchy song?)
Fannie Martinez, a fourth-year ethnic studies major as well as the executive director of Dance Marathon this year, exclaimed, “My goal is to make Dance Marathon just as big of an event as Heat is; all of the stories I hear make it such a personal experience and it’s nice to know all the effort we put in makes a difference for the students.” She went on to tell the story of a previous scholar who managed to enroll in law school through hard work, dedication and a helping hand from the Guardian Scholars Program.
Martinez and Yates are among the numerous members whose collective efforts raise awareness as well as funds to help the emancipated foster youth population at UCR thrive and pursue their dreams without limitations. The turnout was great for the event and by the end of the night, they had surpassed their goal and raised $54,848.