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The Best Advice From Former THON Dancers

Last week we asked former THON dancers to send in their best advice on how to survive the weekend. We asked you for your best tips, tricks, and suggestions, and you delivered.

After hundreds of submissions from former THON dancers, we broke down your advice into one easy, comprehensive guide. From tips from fraternity brothers to advice from independent dancers, here is your official THON guide — by dancers, for dancers.

Pre-THON Advice

Preparing for THON can be like preparing for a marathon. Make sure you start treating your body right before THON weekend even starts.

“Stop drinking alcohol at least two weeks prior to THON. This may seem difficult while maintaining a social calendar, but the trick I used was to make sure I was with my partner. This gave me a sober friend to hang out with at parties and someone to tell me no. Also, stop drinking caffeine immediately if you haven’t already. My partner and I actually cut caffeine over a month before THON. If you really have trouble with caffeine, replace the coffee with tea for a week and then cut it completely.” — Chad Mueller, Association of Residence Hall Students

“Become less dependent on your phone now. Start leaving it in your bag or pocket for a long stretch of time. You don’t want to be on the floor and constantly pulling out your phone because that’s what you do when you’re bored.” — Kristin Sliwinski, Student Society of Architectural Engineers

“Get a good night’s sleep and eat something substantial before THON. You don’t get an actual meal for a few hours, so make sure you are fueled up and ready to go beforehand!” — Hannah Schehr, EASI House

“Organize each outfit/hair accessory in a zip lock bag to avoid having to dig through your bag. Your storage space will be tiny and by hour 30, digging through your duffel bag is just not fun. Be sure to send toys/dirty clothes back with visitors (moraler, parents, etc.), and lighten your load with [sending home] unnecessary items as often as possible to reduce the amount of stuff you have to carry home Sunday.” — Dana Wilhelm, Penn State Dance Alliance

“In the weeks leading up to THON, try to stretch as most as possible. It will make a huge difference in staying loose during the weekend as you will be stretching a lot while on the floor.” — Brian Wright, Everyday

“Your workout should consist of cardio, legs, back (specifically lower), and core. Any strength training should be cut the Monday before dancing. Keep up the cardio until Tuesday, and then rest Wednesday and Thursday leading up to Friday. Having a workout buddy definitely helps.” — Chad Mueller, Association of Residence Hall Students

“Make sure you bring more than one pair of shoes and plenty of pairs of socks. Make sure your shoes are worn so you are used to them. I made the mistake of bringing only one pair and a change of socks for each day. Boy did my feet pay for it!” — Sean Miller, Penn State Hillel

“My best advice may seem a bit obvious but make sure you get good sneakers that fit your foot perfectly. I went to Rapid Transit and they were extremely knowledgeable about what is needed for dancing in THON. I never knew how differently shoes could fit your foot until I sat down and tried on a ton of different pairs with them. They showed me multiple different shoes with varying arches and the moment I tried them on it was obvious which shoe had the correct arch location for my foot. Although they weren’t my first choice in appearance or and the most flashy colors that are popular for THON, they had the best support.” — Kelly Brown, Nittany Nation

“Invest in Pro-Glide and Under Armour. Avoiding cotton clothing and taking measures to reducing chafing will make a considerable difference in your comfort levels, especially because you will walk/dance upwards of 20 miles while on your feet.” — Michael O’Reilly, Essence of Joy

“Learn how to do handstands against hard surfaced walls. It’s so amazing if you can hold the position with a tight core for 30 seconds or so. It was so beyond beneficial to me. I am not joking, learn it!” — Michael Ashkar, Ohana

Advice During THON

Standing for 46 hours can be exhausting and emotional, but also exciting. Here’s the best advice on making it through the big weekend.

“Keep active, but don’t get caught up in all the excitement, especially Sunday morning when the crowd becomes boisterous as you will use up a lot of energy that you will need to finish. Hallucinations can and will occur with sleep deprivation, lack of food and water. But then again, those could be the best things that happen! Above all, you are there for the kids, remember that – you are dancing for them!” — Joseph Zawacki, danced in four THONs: twice as an undergraduate, once as an alumnus and once as a graduate student

“My best advice is to maintain a positive attitude. THON is so much more mental than it is physical. It’s obviously a huge physical feat, but it’s an even greater mental one. Maintaining that positive attitude goes a really long way towards helping you succeed. Also, accept the fact that you’re going to be in pain. This may sound simple (and somewhat counter to the first part), but the quicker you realize this, the quicker you can get past it.” — Stephen Ciarrocchi, Alpha Kappa Psi

“1. Don’t trust the hallucinations.

2. Any time someone offers to massage your calves, LET THEM!

3. No matter how good the Taco Bell Burrito that your friend brought looks, DON’T eat it!” — Patrick Kim

“Soak it all in, do as much as you can (scavenger hunts, color war games, meet other dancers, etc.) you can get as many PB&Js as you would like (had at least 2 every hour). And for the guys, bring Gold Bond anti-chafing spray.” — Sean Klause, FOTO 

“Coloring books are a great way to pass the time and relax while staying focused and escaping from the chaos for a little while. Wash your face often to feel refreshed, and have your friends surprise you with Shamrock Shakes. FaceTime with family and friends who could not make it to the BJC and give them a tour. Your excitement to show them what THON is all about will give you that extra boost of energy you may need on Sunday morning.” — Karisa Maxwell, Independent Dancer for Paternoville

“Create a THON iPod playlist before the weekend. Taking a few laps around dancer storage jamming out to your favorite songs is a great way to clear your head and give you a burst of energy. Visit “Jail” whenever you need to see a friendly face. Text your org members to meet you at the bottom of the bleachers if no one is on the floor with you. Don’t be afraid to ask your moraler for some “real food.” I was given buffalo chicken dip in the later hours and it gave me the biggest boost of energy (and it tasted amazing!)” — Dana Wilhelm, Penn State Dance Alliance

“I would say dancing during THON weekend is about 90% mental and 10% physical. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I found out a week and a half before THON 2014 that I would be dancing for my organization. At that point, I did not have time to physically prepare my body for what was to come. All I could do in preparation was to stretch, drink lots of water, and eat healthy. One of my SA sisters who had previously danced told me, ‘Your body can do anything your mind decides it can do,’ and those words really resonated with me.” — Paige Smoyer, Sigma Alpha

“When your legs can’t walk anymore (Sunday morning) get the ice bath! It saved me. I got mine at 7 a.m. and was refreshed until the end!” — Jennifer Rausch, Alpha Delta Pi

“I advise the dancers to do whatever works for them without worrying about their org or anyone else. For me, I could only be out on the main floor for small gaps of time because I found it too claustrophobic. I spent a lot of time in the back areas and it really helped me mentally.” — Jessica Harvey, Tri-Sigma

“My advice is to never take any moment of THON for granted. Never ever be afraid/nervous to play with a child or talk with a family. Each minute is incredible for a different reason.

Anytime anyone asks me what my favorite THON memory is; I know it instantly. It’s not the pep rally, it’s not Family Hour, it’s not Go Go Gadget, and it’s not the total reveal. I stood for roughly 2760 minutes that weekend, and my favorite moment was a 10 minute exchange with a young THON child named Olivia. I was struggling mentally and physically at that point, but her laugh and smile made all of that go away in an instant. I walked up to her, and she had a giant Olaf balloon and smacked me in the face with it and said ‘Do you like warm hugs?’ I instantly fell in love with Olivia and she was the biggest reason I made it through THON. So when I say don’t take any moment for granted, that is what I mean.” — Daniel Ellman, Altoona Benefitting THON

“The floor pass system isn’t always in operation. With all the people trying to visit the dancers on the floor it makes sense that everyone can’t always come, so try and mentally prepare yourself for this in advance. Sometimes you can go hours without seeing someone on your floor pass list, and I think that was the hardest part for me. Keep in contact with the people on your list and tell them what section you are near so they can come see you from the stands. The little bursts of encouragement they can give you will help you to make it through.” — Kaitlin Mottle, Independent dancer

“Let your emotions out! Don’t feel like because you are there and you’re dancing, you can’t cry, or be mad, or frustrated, or anything else! Keeping those emotions in for 46 hours will really take a toll on you mentally and physically.” — Bethany Richards, Penn State Schuylkill

“As a girl, my best advice is to go to the THON salon! I was feeling so down and I went there, used my hair dryer and felt like a whole new person!” — Julia Qualiotto, Penn State Greater Allegheny

“See if you can talk to every single dancer on the floor, all of them. That should keep you occupied for awhile. Work in a few of the same questions when talking to each person. Record the answers, anonymously if they prefer. Analyze those answers, and tell us something fascinating you learned.” — Michael Riley, Phi Gamma Delta

“Don’t get cocky, and don’t let the attention go to your head. It is not about you. You are dancing For The Kids. It is a privilege and responsibility. It’s also a once in a lifetime opportunity, so treat it with humility, grace, love, and courage.” — Samantha Glancey, Penn State York Benefitting THON

“Unsolicited advice for THON spectators: Go home and shower! The dancers are tired and dirty (but beautiful in their own way), and it is much nicer to see fresh-faced, supportive friends than grouchy, stinky people who ‘were basically in the BJC the whole time.'” — Lauren Perrotti, The Liberal Arts Undergraduate Council

“My first piece of advice is something I wish someone would’ve told me, which is that your experience dancing is going to be different than every dancer before you and every dancer after you. Sure, you’ll have similarities with other dancers, but don’t go into the 46 having all these expectations (this can be hard since I’m sure every past dancer you know is giving you tips/tricks). Let every moment be fun and special, so that when you sit on Sunday you can be overwhelmed with the thought that you just did something amazing! My other piece advice is to keep a journal. This was something I did when I danced, and my best friend did too. We would find each other at randoms times and journal together. Writing down what we had done up until that point, how we were feeling, what we were looking forward to, etc. This may seem a little lame in the moment, but I promise that years from now when you’ve forgotten things you swore you’d never forget you can look back and read about the best weekend of your life.” — Lex Hoffmann, Domani

Post-THON Advice 

The aftermath of THON seems to go under the radar. Here are some tips from former dancers on what to do after you make it through.

“Not many people like to highlight the struggles you’ll have after THON, but I really think it is important to prepare for the aftermath. I didn’t eat anything the last 6 hours of THON and then slept for 19 hours so my body didn’t have anything in it. Please learn from my mistake and make sure to have some sort of food and definitely a Gatorade for when you wake up right next to your bed.” — Chad Mueller, Association of Residence Hall Students

“Don’t go out to eat afterwards. I was so hyped after the total reveal of 2012 that instead of driving me back to my apartment I told my parents I wanted to go out to eat. 5 minutes after arriving at The Diner and ordering a grilled sticky I passed out for the count. Fair warning — when you get out of bed the next morning your legs might just give out on you and you’ll fall to the floor. Wash your shower before THON so you can sit down in it afterwards!” — Colleen Cwenar, College of IST

~~

There you have it, just some of the most valuable advice from former THON dancers. We want to give a huge thank you to anyone who contributed, your words of wisdom will mean so much for the 2016 THON dancers. Even if your advice wasn’t mentioned, we know you’ll do your duty in spreading your advice to those you know and making sure their THON experience is just as amazing as yours was.

About the Author

Carolyn Popescu

Current senior studying Advertising and Visual Arts, Carolyn has a passion for entertainment and music. She also loves photography, film, graphic design, social media, and all things in between. She's the current Sony Music Marketing Representative for State College, so be sure to reach out to her with any local music scene questions, ideas, proposals, or if you just need someone to geek out about music with.

(Contact her through [email protected] or [email protected])

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