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How To Explain THON To A Non-Penn Stater

Like most Penn State students, none of my hometown friends have any idea of why I keep retweeting constant updates about some ~dance marathon~ that happens to be 46 hours long.

Any Penn Stater knows how significant THON is every year. But it can be hard to find the words to explain the event and everything that goes into it, and just how big it is.

From orgs to the line dance to what exactly a dancer does, we broke down each over-arching element of THON to boil the weekend down into something your friends at home can hopefully understand.

What Is THON?

THON is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world that focuses on raising money to fight childhood cancer. It is NOT just a weekend event. Participants raise money all year, and THON Weekend simply caps off that year-long effort with a 46-hour dance marathon.

The money raised goes to the Four Diamonds Fund that covers families’ medical bills at the Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

So, Who Gets To Dance?

Great question! Any Penn State student can dance for either their organization (a.k.a orgs) or be part of an independent dancer couple (IDC).

To dance for an org, potential dancers must go through “dancer elections” where they present to their org on why they deserve to dance for this year.

Independent dancer couples are picked by a lottery system. The more money a couple raises, the better the odds are.

Do Dancers Really Stand 46 Hours?

Yes! With the exception of THON 2021, dancers do stand for the whole 46 hours. That’s right — no sleep! They are supported by their orgs that are in the stands of the Bryce Jordan Center, family members that come to visit, and their Dancer Relations committee member (DRCM). A DRCM is a student volunteer trained specifically to be able to help their dancer get through their 46 hours.

You Keep Talking About ‘Orgs.’ What Does This Mean?

An org is an organization such as a fraternity or a sorority. There are also general orgs and special interest org.

General orgs don’t totally focus on THON but still fundraise and have dancers. Good examples would be club sports teams or extracurriculars, like CrossFit Club.

A special interest org, meanwhile, is a club that specifically exists to raise money for THON, like Eclipse and FOTO.

You can spot orgs in the stands by the homeade letters they make.

What Happens During THON?

Dancers stand at 6 p.m. on the Friday of THON Weekend. From there, it’s a montage of fun. Those in the BJC learn the THON line dance, which recaps the previous year of Penn State events and pop culture news and reminds students why they THON.

The line dance is played almost every hour of the weekend to help dancers stretch out and reenergize the arena.

Traditionally, are also two national music acts throughout the weekend (on top of local bands). Attendees are also treated to a pep rally featuring Penn State sports teams, which perform dance routines in front of a panel of judges.

Most people will tell you their favorite part of THON is “Final Four.” The final four hours of THON are dedicated to celebrating THON families, capped off by a musical finale.

Side note: THON families supported by the Four Diamonds Fund. They are paired with different orgs that support families as they go through their journey at Penn State Children’s Hospital.

Families take the THON stage to tell their stories and explain what the THON community has done for them. To complete the Final Four, the THON total — the money raised over the calendar year — is dramatically revealed.

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About the Author

Dana June Nunemacher

Dana is a senior, who is studying public relations. She is from the 570 and yes, she has watched The Office. Her passions in life include drinking unsweetened iced tea and spreading her love for agriculture (yee haw)!

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