Backstage To The Floor: Former THON Leaders Dance As Alumni
For 46 hours this weekend, the Bryce Jordan Center floor is covered in a sea of 708 dancers, the vast majority of which are Penn State students representing various THON organizations.
Within that crowd lies the rare exception to the rule: alumni dancers. There are a small number of alumni groups that fundraise in order to be represented on the BJC floor. The Dance Marathon Alumni Interest Group, known within the THON community as DMAIG, boasts two dancer couples.
One of those couples, made up of John Mazzochette and Michelle Gettle, lies among the most veteran and experienced to ever partake in the philanthropic event. The duo served together on the 2013 THON Overall Committee.
Mazzochette was the 2013 Hospitality Overall, running the committee responsible for providing dancers and Four Diamonds Fund families with meals, snacks, and more to keep them energized. After all, THON dancers are partaking in a weekend-long battle against sleep deprivation and physical exertion in order to benefit the fight against pediatric cancer.
“My experience in THON was absolutely life-changing,” Mazzochette said. “I started out as a freshman and sophomore not really knowing what was going on, but I absolutely fell in love with the organization and the cause and everything they do. I knew I wanted to get more involved every year after that and eventually it led to being on the Overall Committee.”
One year removed from any official involvement with THON after loosely assisting the 2014 team in a transition role, Mazzochette felt the itch to get back in the game slowly creep up.
“I was drifting away from the organization and was not nearly as involved as I was as a student,” he said. “I felt that this was a great way to stay involved as an alumni and help fundraise for THON and for the kids.”
And so Mazzochette and Gettle set off on fundraising efforts, needing to fall among the top two couples within DMAIG to make it to the BJC floor this weekend as dancers. There was no issue with motivation for the couple as the goal of THON, the effort to help find a cure for pediatric cancer, was foremost in their minds.
“My biggest motivation is the mission, the kids,” Gettle said. “I can’t complain about anything when they have to go through these struggles all the time. For me, the motivation all goes right back to them.”
Early Saturday morning, Mazzochette and Gettle were in high spirits after a couple of soft pretzels with mustard.
“Being in this place, you can’t say anything bad about it,” Gettle said. “It’s been exactly what I expected it to be. You have to try and entertain yourselves and look for your friends, but it’s been so much fun. All the other dancers are awesome. Everyone is in a great mood.”
But as a former overall, it isn’t all fun and games seeing THON from a new perspective. Gettle has spent the last five years working the event timeline, so there are milestones that have tipped her off to the time. Typically, dancers are meant to be unaware of the time through all 46 hours.
Mazzochette is less aware of the scheduling throughout the weekend, so hearing that it’s time for OPP – or the operations committee, which Gettle led in 2013 – to mop the floor doesn’t mean much to him. In fact, despite having years of behind-the-scenes experience within the highest levels of the organization, he says that dancing has been an unreal experience.
“It’s very surreal being back here as a THON dancer,” he said. “It’s weird being on the other side of it where we’re not working, we’re kind of just observing. It’s nice to kind of take a step back and see the whole picture.”