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THON 101: How To Explain THON To A Non-Penn Stater

THON 2024 is in full swing. Dancers, spectators, and volunteers have filled up the Bryce Jordan Center and formed a rainbow sea of bandanas, t-shirts, and tutus.

While THON is a huge deal at Dear Old State, our non-Penn State friends may be less familiar with the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. It can be hard to understand the scope of this massive effort and explain its significance to the non-Penn Stater.

So, we’ve broken down some of THON’s most frequently asked questions to explain its mission in any room…. Let’s start at the very beginning, the very best place to start.

What Is THON?

With over 16,500 student volunteers, THON takes the cake for the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. Contrary to popular belief, THON is not just a one-time thing. It is a yearlong fundraising-effort, culminating in a 46-hour, no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon.

All money raised through THON supports the Four Diamonds Fund, which covers all medical bills for families treated at the Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

So, Where Does The Dancing Come In?

Great question! Dancing boogies onto the scene during THON Weekend at the live, 46-hour event in the Bryce Jordan Center. Students can earn a spot to dance through involvement in an org, which typically involves applying to dance and being elected by the group’s leadership.

Students can also register as an independent dancer couple or “IDC” for a chance to be selected by a lottery system. The more money raised over the course of the year by an IDC, the better chance that duo has of selection. May the odds be ever in your favor, Penn State.

What Is An “Org?”

An “org” is Penn State slang for a student organization. Student organizations involved with THON include Greek life like ATO/ZTA, general orgs like a club sports team, and special interest orgs like Ohana, which specifically focus on THON throughout the year.

It’s easy to spot an org by its gigantic letters in the stands of the BJC. Often homemade and decked out in the org’s chosen theme for the year, these letters are held up by students throughout the weekend as encouragement for their dancers to keep going.

Most importantly, orgs are often paired with Four Diamonds families throughout the year. In this relationship, members of the org provide community and emotional support to families affected by pediatric cancer.

Is This Event Really 46 Hours Long?

Yes, and it used to be even longer! In 1984, the Penn State Dance Marathon was a grand total of 48 hours, two hours longer than this weekend’s event.

Also, before you ask, dancers do in fact stand for all 46 hours of the event. Throughout the weekend, they are supported by members of their organization, visitors of their choice, and a dancer relations captain who is specifically trained to aid their dancer in getting through the weekend.

How Do You Fill The Time During THON Weekend?

A tail as old as time, folks. Throughout the weekend, Penn State provides a variety of live performances and two national acts such as Natasha Bedingfield or Walk the Moon.

THON personnel also often take the stage with community building activities like “Guess The Lyric” and more. Outside of that, students often rely on each other to make a memorable weekend and can be found taking pictures, playing charades, or facing off in UNO.

What’s The Typical Agenda?

Starting at 6 p.m., dancers stand for the first time on the floor, which jumpstarts the excitement of the weekend. Then, dancer relations captains take to the stage to teach the crowd the line dance. Think of this dance as the year in review: pop culture references, your favorite Penn State memories, and a well-known soundtrack meant to keep dancers energized through the 46 hours.

The line dance is performed once during each hour of THON at a different point during the hour to keep the passing time a mystery to dancers. However, there are a few timestamps of the event: two national performances on Friday and Saturday evening, a pep rally from Penn State Athletics teams, and the Final Four.

What Is The Final Four?

Many students will tell you that this is their favorite part of THON. As the weekend comes to a close, the last four hours of the event are dedicated to THON families and listening to their stories firsthand.

Four Diamonds families often take the stage, tell their stories of strength, and share the impact THON has had in their lives. It is known to be an incredible moment for all involved, and the BJC is notoriously filled to capacity during this time.

How Do You End A Weekend Like This?

With the most exciting moment of all: the fundraising total reveal. Dancers are finally permitted to sit, and the THON executive board takes to the stage with one large poster each.

From right to left, the total is revealed number by number, culminating in a roar of applause and cheer from the arena. There’s nothing quite like this, folks.

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a senior majoring in Marketing and Psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 19-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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