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10 Questions With THON 2023 Line Dance Leader Kelly Rafferty

Dancer Relations captain Kelly Rafferty, a senior majoring in human development and family studies, became a familiar face at THON 2023 last weekend. She was responsible for leading the line dance, bringing the Bryce Jordan Center to its feet dozens of times.

Every year, the line dance incorporates iconic Penn State and pop culture references, as well as catchy songs and dance moves. You’re lying to yourself if you claim that you haven’t heard “BJC is boomin’!” echoing through your head during the past few days.

We sat down with Rafferty to learn more about how this year’s line dance came to be, as well as her experience with THON over the past four years.

Onward State: How did you become involved in THON?

Kelly Rafferty: I’m actually from a very small town in New Jersey, so I never heard of Mini-THON or anything like that in my high school or in my hometown. I remember when I was visiting Penn State on my tour, they mentioned THON, and I knew I wanted to get involved in it.

It wasn’t until I was on the first-year Homecoming Committee and a captain came to one of our meetings and gave a whole presentation on THON. I could just tell when he was talking the passion that he had for this organization and how much that changed his life. I left that meeting and suddenly went back and started working on my application. And then actually after talking with a few of my friends on my floor, they were also all filling out their applications because one of the girls on my floor, her older brother was actually involved in it at the time. He kind of helped us out and gave us different tips and tricks on what to do, so he kind of gave me more information on it. Then, I decided to apply for a committee.

The day I got that call was honestly probably one of the best days of my life and has changed my life for the better. I am forever grateful that I am involved in this organization and decided to make that decision.

OS: What inspired you to become a Dancer Relations captain this year?

KR: Last year, I was a Special Events captain and I got to see the magic of THON throughout the whole entire year, which is something that is so special to me. I honestly am so grateful for that whole entire opportunity. This year, I decided to be a Dancer Relations captain. One thing that really inspired me to make that switch is that I really wanted to make sure that every single dancer felt supported and had different tools that they needed to make sure that their dream of dancing for all 46 hours could come true.

Being a Special Events captain, a bunch of my committee members danced, and I got to spend a lot of the weekend with them. It really just sparks an interest that I really wanted to make sure that every dancer can live out that dream of dancing and could do this for their families and for everyone. That was something that really inspired me.

For a lot of people, dancing and THON is a dream of theirs for so many years. Just being able to help people with that dream is something that is so special to me and something that I wanted to make sure that I could do this year. I wanted to really educate and help my committee understand how to support dancers, both physically and mentally, and how to be there for them. Not just throughout the weekend, but leading up to the weekend and being a resource for them. So it definitely was something that I really have wanted to do for a long time now and just something that has inspired me.

OS: How long in advance do the DR captains prepare for the line dance?

KR: We start working on the line dance the moment after we get picked. It was the week after we all got picked and we start working on submitting songs for the long background song that plays over the line dance, which gets done first. Every single week, my co-captains will submit songs, I would go through them, present them to my director, and we all would pick the top two lines and vote on them. Each week, we would have a different winner and then take those winners at the end and then pick our background song. So that’s kind of the first step.

We also have a running document of just different things that are happening at Penn State, around the world, in pop culture, and in THON. So we just add to those each week, kind of whenever something comes up. I would bump the document, and a whole bunch of people would just keep adding them in. So, we’ve worked on that all throughout the year. Right after winter break, we come back and work on the lyrics, which is a really special time. We all come together, take that document of all the different content, and try to pull together things that we really want to include. It’s really hard; there are so many things that happen throughout the whole entire year. So it’s really hard to include everything. Everyone works together to create lyrics. Once those are done, we work on moves and go through all of them. And then we work on moves and they create moves.

OS: Other than leading the line dance, what are your other responsibilities as a Dancer Relations captain?

KR: Some of our other responsibilities on Dancer Relations include leading a committee. This year, I led a committee, named “JuRAFFic Park,” of 26 amazing volunteers. Each week, I would educate them on the mission of THON and how to support the dancers both mentally and physically. We would go through different scenarios that could happen throughout the weekend. I also got to work with dancer registration and EMS captains this year to put together a dancer wellness guide that I sent out to all the dancers a month before THON. I also got to host the dancer wellness event a week before THON, and it’s just a time when I get to educate my members on different stretches that they should be doing throughout the weekend with their dancers. This year, I actually had CAPS come to speak, which was really a special opportunity. They got to speak to my committee about how to support not only their dancers but also how to support themselves.

OS: With leading the line dance almost every hour, how did you manage to keep the energy high in the BJC?

KR: The main thing was that every time myself and my co-captains stepped on that stage, we put our absolute all into it. I love to give sass and pep with it and use different facial expressions. One thing that my co-captains really talk about when creating the line dance was adding in those different callbacks and sayings that really would get the crowd energized. I keep telling everyone about the way that the “BJC is booming'” still gives me chills. That was something that we really tried to encapsulate. We were trying to find something that would get the crowd going and bring up that energy and honestly it did that. I’m so thankful because that energy was unlike anything I’ve ever found.

OS: Was there any pressure being the front and center of the line dance?

KR: I definitely think that there was a little bit of anxiety. Anyone who’s gonna get up on that stage is going to have a little bit of anxiety. The moment that I stepped on that stage, I knew I had every single person supporting me. My co-captains are my family, and my director is literally one of my closest friends. I knew that I had every single one of them supporting me and behind me. They’ve all supported me in every single aspect of anything that I had to do. We’re all a team, and we’re all in this together.

Before I went on, my favorite thing to do was give them all high fives. I was as proud of them just as much as they were proud of me. We were all getting up there and doing it. The energy just made me so happy. I kind of just fed into the energy and did it. It was awesome.

OS: What is your favorite line dance lyric?

KR: This is such a tough question because there were so many different lyrics that came together throughout the whole entire year. But one part that I absolutely love is the THON verse. This year we encapsulated so much into this section. One of my favorite things that we did was to use each of the past four line dance themes. We matched them with a different diamond and did the last move of each of those years’ line dances. In the THON verse, I also loved the line, “dedicate remembrance tree, rooted in their memory.” This was a way to honor those that we hold in our hearts.

I think hearing our two new families and their voices in some of the verses shine through was something that was really special to me, and I’m really happy that we got to incorporate those.

OS: What is your favorite memory from THON 2023?

KR: One of my favorite memories is definitely taking my committee members onto the floor for the first and last time. The first time, I had all of my freshmen and everyone who was new to THON go in the front and was able to watch their eyes light up as they go on onto the floor for the first time, which is something that I will cherish forever. It’s a moment in my life that honestly was just so impactful knowing that they got to see this for the first time. And then when I was taking my committee off shift for the last time, it was definitely a very emotional time. I was very upset but just being able to see all the hard work they put into it all weekend and saying goodbye to their dancers for the last time was honestly just such an amazing moment.

OS: Why do you THON?

KR: I THON for every single family that I’ve met along the way so that no parent ever has to hear their child has childhood cancer. Honestly, the THON community has given me so much since I was a freshman. Ever since I’ve been involved with THON, it has changed my life. I have met the most impactful people and inspiring people in my life. I actually met one of my best friends through this organization, and that’s something that I will forever be grateful for. She has inspired me to be the person that I am today.

I think this organization has given so many people a home at this university. I think it doesn’t just change families’ lives. I think it changes volunteers’ lives and saves volunteers’ lives just as much as it saves families’ lives, which is something that I’ve definitely learned through working with so many different people. It’s so special seeing all the support that every single person has, for every single family.

I had a family member with brain cancer. In New Jersey, we don’t have things like THON, so my community at home came together. I took like what I learned from this organization and kind of brought it home with me. The biggest thing that the doctor said to my cousin was that the reason why [he] was doing so well is that all [he] had to worry about was all the support [he] had. That is something that l I live by now: making sure that all these families have to worry about is being there for their children.

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

KR: My committee this year was “JuRAFFic Park,” named after the movie “Jurassic Park.” The first day when I went in, they gave me my committee name, and had a T-rex drawn on the board. Some of my committee members even dressed up as red dinosaurs for our skits. It has just been my spirit animal this year. We even have a little stuffed animal T-rex mascot. We bring it around to all of our meetings and events we go to. It’s so funny because my whole entire committee decided that we love the dinosaur theme.

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About the Author

Evan Halfen

Evan Halfen is a junior broadcast journalism major from Newark, DE, and is one of Onward State's associate editors. Evan loves all things Penn State, tailgating, being loud, just about any beach, and his puppies, Butterscotch and Wentzy. You can direct all your tips, roasts, and jokes to his Instagram: @evan.halfen or email: [email protected].

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