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What Goes Into Creating The THON Line Dance?

Before Dancer Relations captains are called to the stage or you can have iconic lines like “Blast off, BJC!” and “Ignite, Electrify, Come on, Lions show your pride!”, months of planning go into the creation of the THON line dance.

In an interview with Onward State, 2020 line dance leader Juliet Garrigan explained the long process that results in the entire Bryce Jordan Center becoming one giant flash mob.

“Part of the line dance is reminding people to move,” she said. “And the fun little lyrics we put in there and dance breaks just bring the energy back into the BJC. My No. 1 priority is on the dancers and we try to keep that in mind when making the line dance — just to make sure they’re moving, stretching, and getting all they can out of these five minutes.”

As soon as captains are finalized at the start of the fall semester and positions, including the line dance leader, are assigned, work begins on the student favorite that will be played every hour in just six short months. Five minutes of stretching and dancing begin as a blank spreadsheet and a lot of time spent listening to music.

Each week during the fall semester, each DR captain submits five songs for the line dance leader to consider as the dance’s background music for that year. She’ll receive as many as 100 song recommendations each week and will listen to each one before coming to the weekly captains’ meeting with four finalists.

The captains will then listen to each song as a group and vote on which one to keep in consideration for the final vote. The final vote typically occurs around week 10 of the semester when the leader and director both feel like they’ve gotten enough suitable contenders. As they deliberate over what song to devote the next few months of their lives to and to play 46 times in a three-day span, captains get into what Garrigan describes as “deep discussions about the feel of songs.”

Once the final vote occurs, a similar, but much quicker process begins to select the second background song — which you may or may not have known existed. If not, don’t worry. Garrigan said she didn’t even know there was a second background song until she was the one in charge of finding it.

As the songs are being compiled, captains are also periodically updating a shared document titled “Things that are happening.” This is where they’re able to keep track of the many, many things that happen at Penn State, around the world, and on the internet during the course of 12 months. It’s a running log of everything from notable changes on campus to celebrity deaths to memes to yes, questions like “WHAT WAS LAST YEAR’S BIGGEST HIT?”

“It’s crazy to think how easily we forget about events that are happening in just a couple months before,” Garrigan said. “You’re like ‘I can’t believe that was in 2019.’”

Over winter break, each DR captain spends time referring to that document and thinking of 20 potential lyrics for the song as part of their mid-year reports. When classes resume in January, the captains all go on what’s known as the line dance retreat. There, they channel their inner Henry David Thoreau and sequester themselves to write the full lyrics.

”Work starts in the car, because we have no time to waste that weekend,” Garrigan said. “We get going right away, picking and choosing what we want to talk about. Going from there, we hash it out the old school way on a whiteboard until we find the perfect line dance.”

The week after the retreat, practice begins. More importantly, so does the month-long struggle to keep it a secret.

The captains spend four hours each week between the retreat and THON learning and rehearsing the dance. They start with the lyrics before moving on to the moves.

There’s a bit of extra practice involved for the leader who will be the one leading the dance in front of thousands of people in just a few weeks. Garrigan says the best time for her to practice is while showering. Based on our annual 10 Questions posts with the line dance leader, the privacy of the shower seems to be a popular way to commit the words and moves to memory without leaking lyrics.

Garrigan said it was a bit of a challenge for her to practice and keep the lyrics a secret from her roommate who will be dancing in THON this year. She said she took advantage of her alone time at home and while at work setting up classes at her job as an instructor with Penn State Fitness.

By around the time that THON is three weeks away, the captains typically have worked out all the kinks and are pretty comfortable with the routine. They might swap in a lyric if something huge happens, but only if the majority of captains feel comfortable enough to change an element.

Once the week of THON rolls around, captains spend time teaching it to the committee members who are among the first students to try out the dance.

And then, on Friday shortly after 6 p.m., the PA announcer will come alive with those six magical words, which have been as many months in the making.

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About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci was once Onward State’s managing editor and preferred walk-on honors student who majored in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. If you want to hear the story or are bored and want to share prequel memes, follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter or email him at [email protected] All other requests and complaints should be directed to Onward State media contact emeritus Steve Connelly.

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