Dancing for a Cure

Members of the Penn State Collegiate Figure Skating Team participated in a 46-hour dance marathon to help raise money for children and families who have been impacted by childhood cancer. 

By Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz                         

Imagine not being able to sleep for 46 hours. Now imagine not sleeping for that long and not sitting down. Only standing and dancing are permitted.

Katie D’Angelo and Marissa Ulchaker, two Penn State Collegiate Figure Skating Team members, did just that during a mid-February weekend.

It was all for a good cause.

The two took part in THON 2023, a dance marathon. THON, which is a Penn State student-run philanthropy, is committed to enhancing the lives of children and families impacted by childhood cancer, with a mission to provide emotional and financial support, spread awareness and ensure funding for research – all in pursuit of a cure.

According to their webiste, THON is the largest-student run philanthrophy in the world. The year-long efforts and events culminate with the 46-hour dance marathon.

“Every year, we are allotted two dancers,” D’Angelo said about the dance marathon. “The skaters wishing to dance apply to the Skating Club’s THON board, a board of skaters that strictly works with THON team events.”

Marissa and Katie lay on the ground while getting ready for their 46 hour dance marathon. Both are yng Caucasian woman with long blonde hair. They hold up the official hand sign if the THON event by making a triangle with their pointer finger and thumb
Katie D’Angelo and Marissa Ulchaker get ready to stand for the 46-hour dance marathon at the Bryce Jordan Center

Only two dancers are required on the main floor, but the entire team is invited to come and support their dancers from the stands.

“We had a fantastic team this year, and having people in the stands supporting you makes a real difference,” D’Angelo said.

Ulchaker attended all team-hosted events for THON throughout the year and was humbled to be a chosen dancer.

“I was just honored to do it. It was seriously the hardest thing I ever had to do, but it was the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life,” Ulchaker said.

Olivia Lammert served as this year’s team THON chair and noted that all the clubs and organizations at Penn State earn money and host events for THON. The skating team was proud to host several events and raised over $10,000 for their efforts.

“We have team s’mores and pasta dinners,” Lammert said. “One of our big events is the THON Skate. We put on a show followed by a public skate.”

Overall, 2023 Penn State THON raised $15,006,132.46 for the Four Diamonds Foundation, which is the sole beneficiary of THON.

But the famous dance marathon held the third week in February at the University’s Bryce Jordan Center is the marquee event and has supporters packed to the rafters.

“Being awake for 46 hours, I had a lot of time to experience my emotions,” Ulchaker said. “You get to experience emotions a little differently. There are times when you are so tired, and then there are times when adrenaline hits.”

Dancers are discouraged from drinking caffeine for the 46-hour event, but meals and food are encouraged, and for the entire event, the food, snacks and support flows. Outside spectators are welcome as well.

D’Angelo and Ulchakers’ skating students came to cheer on their favorite dancers, and D’Angelo’s parents also attended.

It’s a weekend with plenty of memorable and emotional moments.

“For me, it’s the THON total and family hour with the speakers,” Lammert said. “You meet the families we’re helping. That’s the part that touched me the most and what we are there for.”

This year was also special because one of the team’s skaters benefitted from THON as a  former THON Four Diamond Child..

“The money raised in THON helped save her life,” D’Angelo said. “Now she can be a part of our team. It really brought things full circle, and our team wouldn’t be complete without her.”

Spoiler alert. Next year she will be the figure skating team’s new THON chair.

Although the marathon was challenging for D’Angelo and Ulchaker, it was also an event they were honored to participate in.

“The whole weekend, thousands of people support this goal. Every time you look around that bowl, you see how supportive the Penn State community is,” Ulchaker said. “I was tired for 46 hours, but I was doing it for the kids. Looking back, it’s just so rewarding. We will never understand what these kids go through.”