Blue Sapphire Rachel Reiss Dances & Performs At THON
Apart from the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Eagles offensive guard Stefen Wisniewski, Rachel Reiss, in her familiar sparkling blue and white uniform and signature batons in hand, was the most eye-catching person on the Bryce Jordan Center stage during the annual THON Pep Rally Saturday night.
After dance performances from Penn State’s student-athletes, Reiss took center stage alone. She then executed a seemingly flawless three-baton routine, full of the juggling, neck rolls, high tosses and spins that have entertained Penn State crowds for the past four years.
But there was one new addition to her performance: a rectangular paper with a red THON dancer number pinned to her right hip.
As the Blue Band’s Featured Twirler, also known as the Blue Sapphire, Reiss has twirled in front of thousands of fans before the kickoff of countless Penn State football games and performs every year on THON’s center stage. She is also a Schreyer Honors scholar and Paterno Fellow. But at 6 p.m. Friday, Reiss added another uniquely Penn State feat to her Happy Valley biography when she stood on the Bryce Jordan Center court as a THON dancer.
“In years past I was a little bit afraid, like, oh my gosh, 46 hours, could I do it?” Reiss said. “But then coming to THON, seeing all the incredible dancers making it through, I said, that’s not the hard part, I can totally do this, I want to do this, and, in fact, I need to do this.”
Reiss first became involved in the Blue Band’s THON organization as a freshman, attending meetings with her friends after practice. The band was paired with the Kayla Nakonechni family that year. Nakonechni, a Penn State alumna, passed away in 2015.
“That made me realize that one of my peers was battling something I couldn’t even imagine, and here I am complaining about homework and quizzes,” Reiss said.
When she decided that she wanted to dance in this year’s THON, Riess paired up with friend and fellow senior Jorge Zurita-Coronado to form an independent dancer couple (IDC) in an effort to raise money and be chosen to dance via the IDC lottery system.
“You never really know what’s going to happen (as an IDC),” Zurita-Coronado said. “When we found out (that we had been chosen to dance), we were excited.”
Reiss spent the early stages of the weekend enjoying the calmer moments on the BJC floor, dancing to performances from a plethora of bands, and playing with Four Diamonds children armed with water guns. She emphasized the importance of making entire Four Diamonds families feel included at THON.
“It’s not just about the child that’s going through cancer,” she said. “It’s about the siblings, the parents, the whole family.”
This year’s Pep Rally finale was Reiss’s fourth annual THON appearance, but her first as a dancer. She said she was nervous about her segment before performing, but was focused on treating the occasion as an enjoyable and relaxed opportunity.
“I’m so excited. I can’t wait to put my Blue Sapphire uniform on, put my dancer number on, and just go out and have fun,” she said before performing. When she took the stage on Saturday night, she had been awake and standing for more than 26 hours.
At the end of her Pep Rally routine, Reiss caught the three batons with effortless control, placed them on the ground, and looked up as a packed BJC applauded.
She then raised her empty hands above her head, and joined them together in the shape of a diamond.