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10 Questions With THON 2021 Line Dance Leader Samantha Mackey

Let’s face it. THON wouldn’t be THON without the line dance.

Although things certainly looked a lot different this year, Dancer Relations captains were still able to carry on this important tradition. In many ways, their hours of hard work and dedication almost seemed more important than ever before. The captains were tasked with uniting thousands of people from various parts of the globe through a livestream.

We sat down with 2021’s line dance leader, Samantha Mackey, to get the inside scoop on that process and learn what it was like to carry on everyone’s favorite THON tradition from an empty Bryce Jordan Center.

Onward State: How’d you get involved with THON?

Samantha Mackey: I’ve had the privilege of attending THON since I was a little girl. I actually come from a really big Penn State family, so I’ve been attending THON since it was in Rec Hall. It has been absolutely amazing to see the organization grow since then and to watch all of the lives changed in the process. Because I always grew up donating to THON and me, unfortunately lost my grandmother to cancer, I knew that THON was something that I absolutely wanted to be involved in if I ever was given the opportunity to attend Penn State. When I first got here, I joined a Dancer Relations committee as a freshman and absolutely fell in love with it. I met so many friends who I stay in contact with to this day, and I started to feel like I had a true purpose at this school.

I continued with Dancer Relations into my sophomore year and gained so much inspiration from my Captain to apply to [for the position] the following year. I was blessed with the opportunity of being a Family Relations Captain and getting to work with the children and families impacted by childhood cancer very directly. Working with the families at the source of our mission truly changed my life. I realized how much every little thing matters.

Going into my senior year, I decided to continue my involvement by applying to be a Dancer Relations captain. Dancer Wellness was a position that I always had in mind since I was a little girl. I loved the idea of hyping up the THON community and bringing smiles to the faces of so many.

OS: What role do you play in creating the line dance?

SM: My role as Dancer Wellness captain revolved around being a facilitator for the creation of the line dance all year long. Starting the week that I was chosen for this position, I would listen to roughly 95 song submissions per week from my co-captains to help narrow down what song we would use as the background song for our line dance.

In addition to that, we also kept an ongoing document of different events and topics that we wanted to keep in mind upon creating the line dance in January. After winter break, we had our virtual line dance retreat where we spent countless hours making up the couplets of the THON 2021 line dance.

Although most people think that the Dancer Wellness captain makes up most of the line dance, this is not true. I work to ensure that everyone’s ideas and opinions are being heard throughout the process while ensuring that we are staying true to THON’s mission. I do have a bit of say in the choreography aspect of the line dance, but it is primarily my incredible co-captains who come up with the content.

OS: How did you get the position as line dance leader?

SM: I applied for this position in the fall because it is a position that I thought I could bring positivity to and could use my experience from previous THON involvement to succeed in. I have been a dancer since I was four years old, so I loved the aspect of helping to facilitate the creation of the line dance. Being a Dancer Wellness captain has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl, so I am so beyond thankful that I had to opportunity to take on the position this year and hopefully bring a bit more joy to everyone from their homes.

OS: What’s your favorite lyric or reference?

SM: This is super tough, as I really do adore the entire line dance. However, a lyric that really sticks out and means a lot to me is “FTK at center stage // heroes found at every age” because it reminds our THON children that no matter their age, they will always be a source of inspiration and a hero to this organization. As a former Family Relations captain, the families are always kept at the forefront of my heart. They are the reason why we do what we do, and we should make sure that they know how much we value them.

OS: How long ago did you start working to learn and memorize it?

SM: We finished the line dance around late January, so I had about a month to learn and perfect it. It definitely took a lot of practice and a lot of learning how to breathe while speaking (who would have thought!?), but I had an absolute blast every second that I got to practice it.

OS: You led the line dance in an empty BJC and without anyone else on stage. What was this experience like?

SM: It was definitely a big change, of course. However, something that I thought about every time I went on stage was the fact that so many THON volunteers and people around the world were dancing with me. That made the experience so much more enjoyable because I knew that I was not dancing alone. I was dancing with more people than could ever even fit inside of the BJC. Though this year was not what anyone expected, so much impact was made regardless of where everyone was located. I am truly just so thankful that I was able to be a part of that impact.

OS: How did you react after your last line dance of the weekend?

SM: So, when I hit that ending pose, I truly felt nothing but happiness and gratitude. I was just so thankful that I had the chance to bring smiles to people all around the world and to keep our incredible dancers healthy all weekend long. It was a moment of pure joy, and I cannot wait to come back in the next few years to do it again.

OS: Why do you THON?

SM: I THON for so many reasons. Upon coming to Penn State, the main reason why I THON’d was for my grandmother, who I had lost to cancer when I was younger. Since becoming more and more involved in the organization, I have developed countless reasons for why I THON. I THON so that one day, the families that I’ve had the pleasure of befriending will never have to deal with something as detrimental as childhood cancer ever again. I THON so that I can see all of those kiddos grow up to be anything and everything that they want to be. I THON so that I can continue building life-long friendships with individuals who have the same values as me and who want to work for the same cause as me.

But most importantly, I THON so that kids can truly just be kids. So that they can go to school, make friends, play all of the sports they want to play, involve themselves in every activity, and have the chance to enjoy childhood. For The Kids, For The Angels, and For The Families!

OS: What has been your favorite memory of THON over the years?

SM: As for my favorite THON memory, I’ll mention two since it is so difficult to decide. The first one did not actually happen at THON. It was last year during our Hershey Fashion Show for the kids [that] had treatment that day. I was able to meet the Abigail Regalado family, a family with who I am still very close to this day. Abby and I instantly clicked, singing Disney songs and walking down the red carpet together. I’ve had a special bond with that little girl and her incredible family ever since.

The second memory is from this year when I was able to do the final line dance of the weekend onstage. As I mentioned before, I just felt so blessed at that moment that I had the chance to bring joy to those in the THON community and beyond. My co-captains were truly my source of inspiration all weekend long, so I kept them in mind the entire time I did the last line dance with their videos playing alongside me.

OS: As per Onward State tradition, if you could be a dinosaur, which would you be and why?

SM: This is tricky but I would say a T-Rex because they are super tall and I think it would be fun to experience the world at that change of height. Random, but that is the first thing that came to my mind.

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About the Author

Rory Pelella

Rory is a junior from Binghamton, New York majoring in Spanish and journalism. She has been bleeding blue and white ever since her older siblings decided to create a family dynasty in Happy Valley. She loves anything Penn State (especially Yallah), the Yankees, Knicks, Giants, and a good old fashioned New York slice. Feel free to email her at [email protected] or follow her on twitter @rorypelella.

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